Remember When Sharing Was Simple?

Call me slow. Or call me old. But I just can’t figure out the new Facebook feed, lists, and real-time ticker. Don’t get me wrong: I understand how it works in theory. What I don’t have, though, is an instinctive feel for the new interface. Now I am never quite sure who is getting what I share, or why I get notifications on items that I never commented on to begin with. Don’t get me started on the Top Story feature, which replaced the perfectly functional “Recent” or “Top” links from the old interface.

And the changes keep coming: soon, FB will roll out a new timeline feature which will let users extend their acts of complicated online sharing all the way back through time. Let’s see: should I share my 7th birthday party pictures with my close friends or just my acquaintances?

Google Plus, the soon-to-be-extinct rival of Facebook, is not much simpler to use, despite the claims of its advocates. The circle feature was novel–and interesting enough for Facebook to copy with its new lists–but never intuitive. Let’s get this straight: I add you to a circle of mine, but you can’t see the stream of the other people in my circle, unless you add them to your own circle? Now Google has added a “share circle” feature, which lets other users grab the circle for themselves. You might also just be “following” someone–that is, getting their posts without having them in a circle. Don’t forget to setup your “sparks,” or areas of interest, and feel free to “hangout” with anybody you choose. And pay attention to those notifications! People could have added you to a circle without your knowledge.

Remember me? The original Facebook interface


The whole thing gives me a headache. If I sound too much like Grandpa Simpson (“I wore an onion on my belt, as was the fashion at the time.”), consider the following: simplicity is a virtue. We do not need sixteen different ways to share information. Yes, our social circles can be complex, as we realize anytime we attend a wedding or funeral: “Oh, you know so-and-so? Well, I worked for his father for twenty-five years!” That does not mean, however, that our online social lives need to be complex.

From a Darwinian point of view, Facebook, Google Plus, and perhaps even Twitter have become overspecialized. Originally, remember, FB offered a cleaner interface than MySpace. The first publicly available FB was minimalistic (see image), even spartan in comparison to the many-tentacled monster it has become. I’d like to say that natural selection would take over, with FB getting eaten by some rough beast with no real-time ticker. But its domination is too complete for that to happen.

Not that I’ll leave, of course. I’ll just sit around and tell long, rambling stories about the good old days.

Update: Looks like I’m not the only crank. Here’s the same rant, from Mashable.

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About RR

Assistant Professor of English Education at Grand Valley State University.
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