If it ain’t broke…
Social networking giant Facebook had its big f8 developer conference yesterday, for which managed to generate a fair bit of hype and the kind of live-blogging support you usually expect only from an Apple launch.
I tuned into the live video stream while finishing off my last story of the day with more of a sense of professional obligation than even curiosity, let alone excitement. There was some rather toe-curling and protracted cabaret to kick things off - presumably to remind us how young, groovy and un-corporate Facebook is - before CEO Mark Zuckerberg got on with the main announcement.
And that was timeline - a new facility that allow you to easily display the entire history of your activity on Facebook. It seems like quite a cool feature - especially if you're the kind of exhibitionist that feels the need to constantly tell everyone what you're doing, or thinking, or thinking of doing - but I really struggled to muster anything more than indifference about it.
I'm sure that confirms that I just don't ‘get' Facebook, and probably poses some serious questions about my competence as a technology hack, but I can't lie to you, dear reader, I'm just not that bothered about new features on Facebook.
Looking at my profile page, I can see that Facebook has introduced a bar down the right hand side that makes it easier for me to keep track of my friends' activity on the site, and to communicate directly with them, but so what? Facebook remains a place where I post random - usually non-tech - bits of content I've seen on the web because I think other people might enjoy them. None of these innovations change that.
A writer I know, who is a much more prolific user of social media than I am, had a story published on HuffPo UK yesterday, which nicely summarizes one of my issues with social media. In it Stuart Dredge warns that there are now so many ways in which the many social networks require your constant attention, that you can easily spend all your time managing the various alerts, notifications and social demands.
Conversely MG Siegler of TechCrunch - who seems to be one of the earliest adopters out there, and unquestionably knows his stuff - concluded that, with this innovation, Facebook has once more given its competition a lesson in how to do social. I'm sure he's right, but I still struggle to care.
There's all this talk about Facebook redefining the Internet, but if it has that's news to me. It remains just one of many things I do online and, frankly, none of the recent innovations have either increased or decreased the amount I use Facebook.
Some of my Facebook friends made timely comments about all this Facebook innovation yesterday, and their views could well represent the broader mainstream consensus. "Facebook is like woman ...when u start to understand them......they change," said one, "Facebook, you need to realise that some of us are too old and too 'un-techie' to understand all these annoying changes you keep making ... leave it alone!" pleaded another.
Of course Facebook needs to keep innovating - the launch of Google+ reaffirmed that necessity - and contrary to the impression I might have given in this piece I'm not some Luddite who thinks all change is bad. But Facebook also needs to ensure these innovations are not gratuitous, and that they're properly communicated, or it risks alienating its users and boring the press.
Having said that there was also talk of clever ways to share music, including the ability to listen in on whatever your friends are listening to at a given moment, which seems like a potentially useful tweak for sharing music. Strangely this feature is barely touched upon in the two blog posts that accompanied the launch, nor the two videos below.