With Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appearing on 60 Minutes tonight, in part to introduce a new design for the online social network, is his creation about to jump the shark?
Facebook in its current incarnation is both extremely popular (with over 500 million users worldwide), but, one senses, perhaps leveling out and growing a bit stale. The initial thrill of reconnecting with old friends and sharing everything from new pictures to mundane details of everyday life has, it seems, been replaced in many ways by the tedium of sharing everything from new pictures to mundane details of everyday life.
The new design that Zuckerberg shares tonight on 60 Minutes seems to strive to make the Facebook experience a bit less formatted (even though it is as formatted as ever), and make it a bit more ‘member centric’. There is more emphasis on photos and an easier to navigate dashboard that provides a snapshot of members’ lives and backgrounds.
Zuckerberg is clearly enthusiastic about the redesign (and so far it has gotten mostly favorable reviews), and surely there will be more redesigns in the future.
But to what end? While Facebook has proven to be immensely popular, of what basic day to day use is it, exactly? Even its biggest fans will acknowledge that there are some potential downsides; most notably concerning privacy.
Fundamentally, Facebook’s best features are also its worst. Facebook’s explosive growth is due largely to the ease of which people can connect with long lost friends, distant relatives, and others whom they have minimal or even no contact with. And yet, in doing so, Facebook seems to have an inherent problem in that worlds collide on its website. What might be funny and appropriate amongst old college friends, for example, may not be at all appropriate to share with the world, in particular with family and colleagues.
Facebook, by its very nature, actually encourages self censorship. The initial contact with people is fun and maybe even thrilling. But when a Facebook friend list includes a customer, an ex-girlfriend, a daughter, a wife, a grandparent, a next door neighbor and a college drinking buddy, the information shared will inevitably lowest common denominator stuff. And after a period of time, who wants to go visit a place to share and read about lowest common denominator stuff?
Either Facebook, or perhaps just as likely, Google, will figure this out. They will have to reconstruct the methods and constructs to more accurately reflect real world friendships; friendships that have circles that overlap in certain areas, yes, but that are their own circles. The context and the ‘rules’ inherent to each circle differ from one to another; some subtly and some dramatically.
Today, Facebook is basically one big circle. What is posted on a member’s wall is the same regardless of who is viewing it.
Facebook will survive; it is too big and omnipresent not to. But for it to continue to thrive and continue to play an increasingly relevant role in people’s lives, it needs to become much more intelligent.
While Zuckerberg’s overview on 60 Minutes of Facebook’s redesign shows a more aesthetically pleasing site, the next evolution of Facebook will need to be much more dramatic than this.