The problem with Facebook

Facebook has suffered some pretty bad press left right and centre recently.

The Cambridge Analytica row hit the social networking site right before the new Europe-wide GDPR came into force. And questions about user data and privacy had already circulated for years beforehand.

But what actually is the problem with Facebook?

I put it down to one thing: the problem with Facebook is that it grew too much too quickly.

I guess you could say the site has an ego, wanting to be number one for everything. It needed to be the number one place to go for this, that, and whatever else.

Facebook launched in 2004 as a student directory, but it soon evolved to a public networking site with worldwide attraction.

But the site began to transform dramatically after the introduction of ‘Facebook Chat’ in 2008. For the first time, users could send instant messages to each other – similarly to MSN and AOL, and SMS texting, but on a site where they already share pictures.

Facebook Chat turned into Messenger, and over the years it has added feature after feature making it one of the more complex messaging services. Messenger is no longer just a messaging service, it’s a game centre and a place to receive news from an automated bot. You can even transfer money using Messenger.

But expansion goes way beyond Messenger.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking at F8 2016.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking at F8 2016. Image: Facebook

Facebook took over photo-sharing platform Instagram and introduced a Stories feature to rival Snapchat. The same Stories feature was also introduced to both Facebook and Messenger.

It also took over WhatsApp, another messaging service that offers a bit of encryption and the ability to make WiFi calls.

The social company didn’t stop there: it set a challenge to eBay and Amazon by launching its Marketplace, it has a cut-down version of TimeHop in the form of ‘On This Day’. The site has events listings where users can send invitations or promote all kinds of events.

The website runs live video, has a dedicated job search function, weather, sports results, and trending news.

And yes, trending topics is going to be discontinued soon, but it’ll only be replaced by something else.

My point is, Facebook is trying to do too much.

It’s no longer a simple site, instead it has hands in everybody’s pockets.

Facebook has set the expectation that you can find everything on it. It wants to be the number one destination for the internet, but it’s only making things more difficult for itself by introducing these features without due care.

Without realising, all of these ‘little extras’ have built up to give Facebook a mass of personal data and it’s not really sure what to do with it.

The idea that it would be great to allow third party developers access to the site meant that millions of users could experience more exciting content. But in order to do that, they had to open a can of worms and allow for the data to become a commodity.

And that can is what they’re trying to close today.

Instead of looking at the wider picture, Facebook has gotten lost amongst all of the little extra nuggets they could attach onto what they started over a decade ago.

After downloading all of my data from Facebook, it is shocking to see not just the volume but also the variety of data collected.

“Starting adult life” is what my peer group was been decided as, and another page listed previous relationships I had at some point made ‘Facebook official’ – including ones I had forgotten about.

The date and time I joined groups, comments, received comments, uploaded photos, searched for somebody’s profile or a company page, and the pages I had unfollowed. Event listings I had interacted with, marketplace, adverts I had engaged with, the lot.

Facebook knows more about me than I do.

And what will Facebook do with all of this? We don’t know, and probably won’t know until it’s leaked, and the idea of all that information being leaked is pretty damn scary.