Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

A Fresh Look -and the Last Probably – at Facebook

November 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Facebook and Twitter-to a considerable less extent, per se, have been a favourite topic here partly because of the dynamics of human relationship it presents to a by-stander and also because of it being the only other less burdensome source of information of all others things for me besides my academic information.

But it looks like the rules of the game are changing.

Facebook just crossed a billion users. Although it is a great news for the company and its investors, not for the average Joe like you and me. Just like scoring the first 50% marks for an answer is always easier than scoring the next 50% marks, Facebook has to struggle in its ways to reach to the next billion or so. Because that involves raising incomes of the people to make them use internet, providing suitable platform like infrastructure-in developing countries, for example – and making it real cheap because accessibility and constantly being online are the buzzword for increased revenues opportunities. Not to forget that one in eight is chronically hungry according to a latest report. When the people are struggling to satisfy their physiological needs, looking at the phenomenon from Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy Theory, will people look forward to satisfy their esteem needs – attracting attention, the affection and ego boosts through likes – shown that Facebook is willing to provide ?

Sadly, Facebook has no control over it. It is equally true that it has to answer its investors for the money they have poured in.

The arrival of ‘promote’ feature – which allows anyone to command a friend’s attention to their content by making it at the top of the ‘News Feed’ paying Facebook – explains this perfectly. Although it is okay with friends doing it, definitely it not for the ‘Pages’ – used by companies for building their brands- doing it. Pages, it was hailed as a good thing for every creator- irrespective of their financial prowess- to reach its fans. A few weeks back, a relatively small content provider depending on the Facebook platform was fuming too, for Facebook has taken sides with other cash-rich corporates as it became one among them by making them pay to reach out to all their fans through Facebook platform.

The fundamental problem with Facebook is two-fold :

  1. Assuming everybody acts in a rational manner and in the best interest of others.
  2. Assuming everybody plays the game perfectly.

Speaking of the first problem, I am, for instance, quirky when it comes to my usage. Sometimes I feel like sifting through and being delivered the content I have ‘liked’. For example, Troll Football to tickle my funny bone. The other time, I am up in arms when I see those troll content anytime during my usage just because of being fed up with them( this is happening more in the recent times). Similarly, I don’t like Hindi movies ideologically(I must admit that I have poor knowledge of Hindi too). My friends on the other hand like them. My intention would not be to dislike them for their preference but to avoid being part of the situation/discussion when the Hindi movies takes over as the primary point of conversation. I would have easily walked out in the real world never to hear any of that. This is not the case here in Facebook. Things keep coming back to haunt us just because I am also a part of the system in which the conservation happened too.Hindi movies isn’t the only thing I dislike; the list is relatively bigger. Add to that, sometimes I would indeed want to be part of the conservation just being I am interested.

Coming to the second problem, as a normal person, I would expect the best of out any thing I do with.It also is a common thing for my friend too.Some of my friends have lots of time at their disposal; some others, barely few. Spending more time in Facebook, will naturally yield more participation on the part of a system participant- playing the game their way. As as a result, I would be constantly poured in information that I can’t handle- just because I’m friends with somebody. There are few of my friends who come very rarely but would nevertheless participate which would be of interest to me-playing the game my way. But that would just become lost in the woods. How can the problem be solved from my side? The only way to catch that would be to spend a heavy amount of time in Facebook- something that benefits the corporate Facebook when it appears as the increased logged hours in the quarterly statistics and not me. And to make things worse,I have more than 250 friends, for God’s sake!!!

Already we are burdened with the ‘Share’ button that allows at the click a content to be shared anybody likes. That only includes, other person’s photos, for example, but a funny image uploaded by a Page like Troll Football also it is equally applicable. I realize that laughing together at a common thing bonds us, but when the real motive behind using Facebook is keeping a tab on everybody you know about their personal lives and this person is always ‘sharing’ whatever he likes at that moment. Yes, I will realize he is big fan of comedy too in a few days.I will definitely bored of this, if it was not my cup of cake from the beginning.Any ways, to laugh to my heart’s content, may be I could have watched a comedy show which I knew of previously, considering that I act in the rational manner?

Even though many people advice using the tools that have come to us ‘freely’ and has a considerable impact on their significant others in a cautious manner, very few are listening.

Increasing use of groups and lists – comparable to increasing specialization that happens in Riggsian Model of Industrialized society – along with customization options(which are time-intensive to make the best use of them) are solving only some of these, but they are failing in their effort to tackle the problems comprehensively, well, just because- people sometimes act rationally and at times,irrationally.

Twitter, at least , because it deals with 140 characters, gives more power in terms of customization as of now. In spite of this, going to markets in the future can make Twitter a brat, for sure.

And recently, Facebook admitted that only 13% of a person’s friends can see a person’s post. That means,gradually we would be paying facebook to make our present felt there vying with the big corporates who can pay truck loads of money to market their products.

An additional problem, is spite of being a fringe case, creeps in if you are a friends with a person you meet on a regular basis and he is more regular on facebook. Consider an conversation below:

Person A : Hey, we went to < insert a place here > few days back.

Person B : Yes, I know. I saw the photos on Facebook.

Though it is available to respond, “Yes, I saw them. Tell me more about it”, it is not easy to force upon ourselves such behaviour always. By nature, talking to other person is basically out of curiosity to know about other persons lives. But when the juice of the story is known before, I feel it is difficult to pretend a good behaviour.

In the book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi tells that relations are built one at a time- something I am increasingly believing to be true. And I remember reading somewhere that a phone call is far better way to connect than most other means and face to face meetings are the best. Reddit founder, kn0thing, talks of making real friends a few years ago.People had friends – and were content -before internet was a rage.

If this is the case, this leaves us wondering that constantly being accessible and in touch with people around us in Facebook is making us feel safe in increasing foul-smelling Earth? Or is the user’s impulsive behaviour -exploited by user himself/herself – is a cause for the increased perception of a bad world around the user ?

In all of these things, rationality and the assumed behaviour of an user who know their limits is implicit – which only a few comprehend.

Nevertheless, Facebook is good for one thing. It is about keeping a tab on the people who have come across a person lives. Additionally, at least most of the people I have heard from, keep an eye of Facebook than e-mail(because I heard it during college days???). I feel e-mail would serve the same purpose too, if only people checked their e-mail as much as they log on to Facebook.

I understand that any business survives only because of money and Facebook is no exception. There is no upfront fee to join Facebook ,which is not good for any business to become privileged so fast, thereby taking a risk to lose some, considering the mission it is undertaking -to help us ‘connect with friends’ – and really making a good shot at mapping human relationships in the internet. At the same time, it has to earn profits, for it’s how corporate entities work. As with any other system, Facebook has its defects and those get propounded by the complex nature of human choices that one gets to exert over on this place. And computation- Facebook’s only tool at its disposal- is relatively a new field , spanning just two hundred years tops. Computation’s sub-fields -Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning(used to predict human choices and behaviour) – are less than five decades old. Humans have, on the other hand, been interacting for more than a million years and human intelligence has been evolving since those times .Sadly, for Facebook it has to accommodate all the other concerns in only one system – a website with URL : it has control over.

Alvin Roth, the recent Nobel Laureate in Economics, was awarded the prize for not just being a by-stander and observing the defects in the functioning of the markets but rectifying them through developing novel models. We can never known of a comparable person who will do the same with Facebook let alone when the event will happen considering the complex nature of human choices.

As a person born in a democratic country having control over the choices I make and the increasing availability of choice in the avenues for interaction(different systems) with other humans we are flooded with and in the light of frustration I am putting up with, will I make a use my choices befittingly ?


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