I am not a 24-hour party person. Family events have always bored me, and I used to actively avoid mega group plans. Even today, the most I do at a party is talk about how polar bears are dying, as everyone else made ridiculous fools of themselves by dancing to Baaki sab first class hai. My usage of Facebook is a bit of the same — I hate being added to random groups that never turn out to be what’s written in the descriptions. As for events, while my friends swear that they are always brilliant, my reaction to an invitation of Beat the heat with beer by the pool is a) I don’t have money, b) there will be too many people, c) the music will be crap, and d) I don’t have money. To add to the misery, while my friends come away with epic cover photos, I only get “candids” where I’m picking my nose.
The reason why I’m ranting about this is because earlier today, I woke up to a rather rude shock that Facebook’s very core design is about to change. Good ol’ CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has proclaimed that “the future is private”, which at least makes for a catchy hashtag. To convey to his legions of sheeply followers that our privacy matters to him, Zuckerberg’s Facebook will soon be doing away with the News Feed design. He did warn us about this already, with major redesigns to the News Feed of late, and more recently, a mention during an interview about making ‘news’ into a completely separate entity.
Instead of the streamlined information feed, our Facebook lives will soon revolve around groups and events (as if our real lives didn’t do that enough already). Taking the centrestage will be views and opinions from the groups that I follow, while events will play a major part in showing me where I should be this weekend (thank you for showing me my place, literally). So, what happens to the people like me, who are not really on Facebook for community life, or mixing with strangers? From what it seems, life on Facebook will soon be like being in a hyper-active local community centre. It will be all about what’s happening within your vicinity, and not show up stories about causes you truly care such as data centre technologies, global warming or the science of a constructed language.
By focusing on the masses, Facebook is practically alienating the niche section of users that enjoyed Facebook for easy accessibility to some of the best reported works. Rather than reading (who reads today, anyway), Facebook wants you to watch more videos about topics that are relevant near you, so that Facebook can truly be an even closer part of your real life. It want to be everyone’s daily life companion, where it is in line with what you really do with your time. It is this, that I have the biggest problem with.
You see, using natural language processing algorithms to gauge the type of groups and events that I’m a part of is to the same effect as my next-door snoopy neighbour, who’s always trying to figure out where I’m going and when I’m coming home. It is invasive and annoying, except that my neighbour won’t sell this information to United Colors of Benetton so that they can put up a billboard outside my bedroom window the next day. Facebook, on the other hand, wants to know what you’re really up to (alarm bells ringing for “Secret Crush”), and serve you with advertisements of products and services that will apparently make your life better, with Facebook at the epicentre.
Facebook is possibly driving into yet another avenue to keep earning through targeted advertisements. Its primary business model for providing you a “free” service is targeted advertising, no matter how many interface changes it goes through. For most unsuspecting users, the new groups and events structure is mostly for casual conversations and general banter, and Facebook itself would have you believe so by segregating the social feed from all the newsy stuff. This does not really aid my digital paranoia, and given Facebook’s track record, kinda makes me a bit annoyed that I can no longer sell my browsing privacy to at least get kickass content recommendation.
It is possibly this very reason, why Facebook is alienating its niche segment of users like me, who preferred to read about the economics behind a Death Star, than be all hyped about what’s happening at Hauz Khas this Saturday. We are not the ones that will give Facebook revenue worth earning, and would continue being thorns on its juggernaut’s wheels as it continues to steamroll its way through data-driven targeted advertisements.
The company has also disclosed that it will apparently refer profiles of strangers to me as “suggested friends”, based on what I like to do, where I eat and how I pour my glass of wine. This doesn’t bother me for two reasons — one, this is a long-established practice, which we’ve kinda seen ever since your high school crush tried to set you up with her painstakingly boring best friend because “OMG you two are so similar!”. Two, no matter how many people Facebook suggests, I will always be stuck with the 501 friends. Try challenging me.
The third reason, actually, is that no matter which way you take it, Facebook’s latest update is a (very clever) cosmetic and functional makeover that may have people think their privacy concerns are being treated seriously, but if you dig deeper, there’s barely much in it.