Tear down these Facebook walls

Via Elizabeth Nolan Brown, a rant about importing Twitter updates to Facebook from early last year:

If there’s one thing that reeeeaaaalllly annoys me on Facebook, it’s when my contacts update their status updates using Twitter.


Seriously, dude, maybe you should start using Facebook status updates in the way in which Mr Zukerburg intended? I follow you on Twitter and we’re friends on Facebook so we’ve obviously got a good relationship going on. But, dude, you’re inundating me with your updates and I’m reading them multiple times.

Like Elizabeth, I’m one of the annoying people who do this. But also like her, the relevant comparison isn’t me updating the two services separately, it’s not updating Facebook at all. In the 3+ years I was using Facebook without Twitter I never once wrote a status update. This was in part because I underestimated how many people pay attention to them. I didn’t, so I assumed no one else did either. But once I started importing Tweets, people I hadn’t talked to in years started commenting on them. I took this as confirmation that it’s worth doing this, despite the fact that it sends along confusing updates like “@XXX Congrats! Has Ryan let you touch the machine yet?”

But that’s not the only reason I don’t update manually. The other is that I’d like to see Facebook fail. Not in the sense of giving way to the next site in the line of Friendster, MySpace (pronounced muh-space), and Orkut, but to get past walled off services entirely. Facebook has become a one-stop shop for all kinds of things that it’s not actually very good at. Its status updates aren’t as good as Twitter. Its messages aren’t as good as email. Its photos, with the possible exception of tagging people, aren’t as good as Flickr. Its notes aren’t as good as blogs and RSS readers. Its zombies aren’t as good as real undead people battering down your door to eat your brains.

When these applications are set free from Facebook’s privacy settings and proprietary data they take on a whole new level of usefulness. Searching strangers’ photos on Flickr helped me decide which of two Vegas hotels to stay in at a wedding a couple of years ago. More recently, searching for “PDX” on Twitter gave me far more reliable information about conditions at Portland’s snowed in airport than the airport’s own webpage did. Those sites have social aspects but they’re additional, not limiting.

Michael Agger wrote in Slate last week about the ongoing battle between Google and Facebook. The internet could be a lot more social than it is, telling us in an integrated way what our friends are doing or what they think about different products and restaurants:

The reason we don’t do these things now is that the “barriers to social are too high.” It’s still too annoying to fill out all of those registration forms, and there’s no universal way to manage your online identity and networks of friends. Google and its partners want to collapse the barriers to social and give each and every one of us an entourage.

There’s just one hiccup in this plan: Facebook, the place where many of us already have our entourage. The pre-eminent social network announced that it has 150 million active users worldwide…

This is where Google and David Glazer come back in, and why 2009 might see some serious social warfare between Google and Facebook. Last May, the latter announced a service called Facebook Connect, a set of tools that made it easier for Web developers to let people log in to sites with their Facebook ID and share things on their Facebook news feed. (A good place to try this out is the video site Vimeo.) Three days later, Google announced Friend Connect, a set of tools that made it easier for Web developers to do the same sorts of things, except outside the realm of Facebook. A site such as Qloud lets you join and comment with a Gmail or Yahoo account. So far, so good. But Facebook blocked Friend Connect from accessing its data, and now we have two rival social networks.

Obviously I’m rooting for portability here. I don’t want Facebook to fail entirely, but I’d like to see it focus on its core competency of deep networking and let better services take over the other elements. If I never get another message in my Facebook inbox that would be fine with me. (For that matter, I’d like to see Twitter become more open too, but figuring out a business plan seems like a more pressing concern for that company. An option to block chosen updates from Facebook would also be a nice gesture.)

All of which is a really long-winded way of saying I’m sorry if I annoy you on Facebook, but it’s for the good of the internet.

Organizational tweeting
Faking it


3 thoughts on “Tear down these Facebook walls”

  1. My social betters informed me that I should not cross-post my Twitter updates to Facebook. Instead, I’ve advised visitors to my Facebook page to subscribe to my blog and/or followe me on Twitter. Now I wonder whether I was mistaken … except for every time I’ve to read someone’s messages twice!

    Agree with every other comment you made about Facebook applications and portability.

  2. Eh, nobody’s complained to me about crossposting yet. And I get far more responses to tweets on Facebook than on Twitter itself, so I’d keep doing it even if somebody did.

    Oughtta be customizable on FB’s end whether or not you see status updates from Twitter friends.

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