Facebook is fast becoming irrelevant and has lost the real-time battle

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I remember the glory days of Facebook. We used to share voraciously on our news feeds. Our movements. Interesting links. Videos. It was where the conversation happened. Daily. And then came Twitter.

The real conversation (and the real-time one) shifted to Twitter. The shift was slow to begin with, which made Twitter a hollow place. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Today, revolutions are sparked on Twitter. We converse there. We interact there. (and we don’t need to go off on a tangent into sociological theory for that to be obvious).

But what made Twitter, as a platform, that attractive? You can still share on Facebook. The conversation can still happen there, except it isn’t.

The problem with Facebook is a simple one: the user interface is a nightmare.

It doesn’t know what it wants to be. Does it want to be a platform where you can share photos? Does it want to be the centre of your social life? Does it want to be your diary? Does it want to know your location? Do you chat on Facebook (and replace Windows Live/Skype/AIM)? Is it your messaging (e-mail/chat) platform?

Privacy debacles aside, Facebook has found itself reengineering its status update functionality (and news feed) almost annually. Innovation is a good thing, make no mistake, but updating your status now is way too complicated. You can tag friends in posts by clicking an icon. But it autotags if you type their names. You can add location, also by clicking (fairly irrelevant when you’re accessing the website). Plus, and here’s the really complicated part, you can choose who you want to share each status update with (public/friends/custom). Huh? I can understand that maybe 1 percent of users want to hide specific updates from specific people, but why is this “feature” central to the update box?

The news feed also suffers from an identity crisis (and over-complication). Most users will find themselves on the default “Top News” setting which means they’ll never see updates from 70 percent of their friends. It’s a vicious circle: The algorithm which figures out which friends you interact with will always be focused on the limited friends it chooses to show you. “Most Recent” (a slight misnomer) gives you the real feed, but again you can filter by status updates/photos/links/pages/questions and also create custom friend lists (more over-engineering!).

This is why Twitter is appealing. 140 characters, “@” and “d”. Done.

Facebook won’t go down without a fight. Witness the launch of video chat, in partnership with Skype, which is (sort of) an attempt to reassert its relevance in the real-time web.

Maybe Facebook is simply where you share photos of your friends and family. Except if you play Farmville.

Maybe it’s also the place where you wish long lost friends from high school (many of whom you don’t ever want to see again) happy birthday. Hallmark Cards should buy Facebook. Oh wait, Facebook should buy Hallmark.

And why can I still poke people? It’s 2011.

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  • http://twitter.com/raymondjwlau Raymond Lau

    Bit premature…

  • http://twitter.com/3seven9 3seven9

    Interesting (and bold) article Hilton – there’s certainly a case to be made that Facebook is waining under the pressure and publicity Twitter is receiving. But, as @raymondjwlau:twitter infers – it’s perhaps a bit premature to write Facebook off just yet. It’s still a ‘hub’ for many businesses and has the ability to form communities more structurally than, say, Twitter does.

    You ask what Facebook wants to be in your paragraph beginning ‘It doesn’t know what it wants to be’ – it wants to be everything and herein lies it’s problem. Twitter knows it’s place. LinkedIn (whilst flirting more with the ‘social’) knows it’s place. New Social Media platforms try to establish their place. Facebook wants to be all of these and more.

    Whilst this looks a bit ambitious (and somewhat arrogant), with the vast investment and innovation available to them, it would be a brave person to bet against them achieving it…

  • Ms Thang

    I’d “like” this post but I have left Facebook … 

  • http://twitter.com/hiltontarrant Hilton Tarrant

    @twitter-68356798:disqus I agree with a lot of what you say, but I don’t think the points I’ve made are premature. Facebook is no longer real-time. Its about what has happened and what is going to happen.

    The point about businesses/companies and brands is an interesting one and that will more than likely form the basis of my follow up next week. It may be relevant for brands, but then again, MySpace was relevant to bands once upon a time!

    I know that Facebook wants to be everything, but from that viewpoint, it doesn’t know what it wants to be. 

    Yahoo! anyone?

  • Jacoba Budden

    Facebook has become the only site where families who live far apart can interact with one another, share photographs and links .. this is why, I think, the video chat thing is just perfect for them…. I only use twitter for news sources & to initiate debate because I find tiresome to have 140 character conversations; since the private chat is still only limited to 140 characters, it becomes a tad tiresome for me.

  • Jacoba Budden

    Facebook has become the only site where families who live far apart can interact with one another, share photographs and links .. this is why, I think, the video chat thing is just perfect for them…. I only use twitter for news sources & to initiate debate because I find tiresome to have 140 character conversations; since the private chat is still only limited to 140 characters, it becomes a tad tiresome for me.

  • http://twitter.com/BrattStar Brett Fourie

    Its tis the beginning of the end for FB. Social Media Degradation/Rot has started to set in. Its only takes a few ripples to start a tidal wave of users to jump ship. Soon enough (as individuals have realised) business will also begin to wain their “like” of Facebook as a communication platform to their consumers. It may take a couple more years, but it is apparent and there is most certainly blood in the social waters… Im not saying the demise of FB is around the corner but you can bet on it that, “being all things to all users” is not a water tight business mantra that is sustainable in the long run.

  • http://twitter.com/BrattStar Brett Fourie

    Its tis the beginning of the end for FB. Social Media Degradation/Rot has started to set in. Its only takes a few ripples to start a tidal wave of users to jump ship. Soon enough (as individuals have realised) business will also begin to wain their “like” of Facebook as a communication platform to their consumers. It may take a couple more years, but it is apparent and there is most certainly blood in the social waters… Im not saying the demise of FB is around the corner but you can bet on it that, “being all things to all users” is not a water tight business mantra that is sustainable in the long run.

  • http://twitter.com/settface Sett Wai

    The original reason Facebook was so popular is that you can cyberstalk people. It entices users to fill out every little detail about themselves and their lives.

  • Ddragan

    I love it when people write a negative post  on something big to get readership – its called spin. Get back to me when facebook begins to lose readership, then we’ll talk.

  • Gjd21777

    Maybe a bit premature but you do raise some valid points. The platform has so much nowadays that you really need to be a power user to know where the bloody hell everything is. Nice article. Still love Facebook though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dpinch Dan Pinch

    I think the stats on how much content is shared daily on Facebook disagree with you. For alpha-geeks it maybe irrelevant but Facebook is still the dominant force in social media for the mainstream and will be for a few years more at least.

  • http://twitter.com/hiltontarrant Hilton Tarrant

    Facebook Sees Big Traffic Drops in US and Canada as It Nears 700 Million Users Worldwide
    http://www.insidefacebook.com/2011/06/12/facebook-sees-big-traffic-drops-in-us-and-canada-as-it-nears-700-million-users-worldwide/

  • http://www.writecombination.com Andrew Knowles

    My teenage kids regularly have conversations with friends on Facebook, so it’s working in real-time for them.

    But my contemporaries drop in once or twice a day, or week, post a few updates and pics, then leave. It’s not a real-time experience for me. Twitter is much more dynamic, but there I’m engaging with a different set of people, most of whom I’ve never met in real life.

  • Brianspaniard

    What a completely ridiculous ‘blanket’ assertion about two very different mediums.  Holy cow – you so called ‘social-media-experts’ need to get some perspective – and stop seeing things in B&W and making foolish predictions that never come true.  While not a bit user of either FB or Twitter (who has the time to waste?), they serve significantly different functions and often appeal to significantly different audiences. Hello – have you not heard of segmentation?  A few years back the buzz was all about ‘personalization’ – or the idea that web was going to mean the end of mass media (despite the fact that TV viewing is up these days).  Now you are saying that because FB is maxing our at roughly +45% penetration in N. America and that people are getting over their initial obsession that it is becoming “irrelevant”?  Okay, nice ploy to get some headlines and reaction from people – but give me a freakin’ break!

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