Facebook as the new Compuserve

by Rob Horning

6 April 2009


James Kwak of the Baseline Scenario, an economics blog, draws a natural conclusion about Facebook:

Incidentally, I don’t understand the Facebook model. They seem to be trying to get people to use and enjoy the Internet within the tight confines of Facebook. This reminds me of the old days of CompuServe and AOL. Ordinarily when I work I have about 10-12 tabs open on my browser, and at most one of them is Facebook. There is so much stuff on the Internet, why would you limit yourself to the stuff your friends posted? Besides, I find their user interface non-intuitive, and with each iteration they make it less powerful - and I used to work at a software company.

The portal strategy, the idea that you choose to access an internet within the internet, has never made much sense to me either, mainly because I don’t trust tech companies to filter my online experience so obviously. (Yet I am content to use Google, which filters what I see in the name of searching.) At first the portal is convenient, but then the companies who control it eventually betray users trust, and they realize that nothing is stopping them from stepping around the gated community but their own laziness. Eventually, it would seem to make a lot more sense for us to simply have our own websites (eg, the nonexistent robhorning.com) so that the information we generate won’t be exploited by a corporation for ends we don’t agree with or aren’t aware of. Having used Facebook for a few months now, I still don’t see what value it adds as a company. Instead, its meddling seems to make the idea of connecting with friends online more joyless and fraught with ulterior motives—servicing other people’s nostalgia or chasing our own temptations to self-aggrandizement while our behavior gets leveraged for the inevitable advertising push to come once our data is properly analyzed and the links we’ve formed decoded into demographic data for marketers.

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