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

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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