40 Days On Facebook

Dan Q's Facebook profile

I’ve been playing with Facebook for the last 40 days or so, to see if it’s any good. Here’s some of the things I’ve observed that I like (and don’t like) about it, followed by my conclusions:

Observations

In no particular order.

  • Nice. It’s a good platform for keeping up-to-date with your friends for the "littler things" that don’t really warrant blog entries, for helping you remember your friends’ contact details, birthdays, etc., for quickly sharing photos without too much hoo-hah, and so on.

  • Nice. It imports XML feeds, so you can integrate your Facebook presence with your blog or whatever else.

  • Nasty. It doesn’t export XML feeds! What is this, the middle ages? There’s a slight risk that some users may begin to use Facebook "notes" as substitute for blogging, and I and others who depend on RSS/Atom will end up not reading what they write as a result of it, but the notes system is pretty simplistic (as it should be) so it’s not terribly likely, at least for the time being.

  • Nasty. Searching for people is a little clunky: it could at least allow me to filter by country, or intelligently suggest people from my own country before showing me people in other countries.

  • Nice. Easy bulk-addition of friends from your address book. I’m an untrusting bugger, so I wouldn’t give them my webmail passwords (but I know others who have), but the CSV import tool, combined with a little scripting, quickly achieved very similar results, plus more.

  • Nice. Unlike many other social networking sites (and particularly the ridiculously bad myspace), it doesn’t allow arbitary HTML to be splattered all over your profile page, so at least the user interface stays consistent and you’re not horribly vulnerable to cross-site scripting attacks every time you use it.

  • Nice. Good reciprocal "friends" system (including a wealth of FOAF-like "how do you know this person" links that make for interesting exploring when you start looking through your circle of friends) and well-designed privacy options so user have a great deal of control over who sees what.

  • Nasty. On the other hand, some people still seem to treat it like myspace: trying to join the most groups, have the most friends, or whatever, as if it were some kind of popularity contest. This probably also extends to people with silly names. Thankfully, they’re pretty few and far between, and – at least in my experience – they don’t harass you with endless messages a-la myspace.

  • Nice. The ads (it’s mostly an ad-supported service) are sparse and discreet. No big flashing animGIFs, flash, or banners.

  • Nasty. I can see why they’ve done the "networks" thing, but it can get on your tits until you get the hang of it. Why can’t I be in an alumni network for Aberystwyth? Because I didn’t have a Facebook account when I was at Aberystwyth, apparently. Why couldn’t Matt join the original Troma Night group? Because it, like me, was in the Wales regional network (because I hadn’t specified otherwise when I created it, and he’s not in Wales, is he!).

Conclusions

It’s a nice little social networking platform. It suffers from a lack of subscribable output feeds, a very slight "myspace factor" amongst some of it’s users, and weak search tools. However, it does a remarkably good job of providing a secure environment in which to publish your up-to-date ontact and other personal information to your friends, share photos, pass simple messages around, arrange events, and discover the links within your friendship groups. I’ve heard good things said about using it instead of Friends Reunited and similar services, for getting in touch with old friends, but I’m not interested in that – I just like to be able to keep in touch more easily with the friends I have.

I’m making the Facebook team aware of these comments (and gripes) and hopefully it’ll become even better. In the meantime: if you haven’t tried it, I’d recommend giving it a go: they’ve got a nice, ethical account closure policy if you decide it’s not for you. A 40-day test drive had me… not hooked like some people, but… contented and impressed nonetheless: something I genuinely didn’t expect.

8 replies to 40 Days On Facebook

  1. The notes system does allow RSS and Atom export, as far as I’m aware (I had to disable it when importing my ‘blog posts because I thought it was a bit redundant for idiots to subscribe to a Facebook RSS of my summaries and have to click through every time you want to read the actual post).

    My bad experience of it, notes-wise, is that it alerts your friends when you write one, but doesn’t alert them when you import one, making it a rather less sexy way to publicise your ‘blog to the RSS-illiterate masses than it might be.

    It is also encouraging people not to get a ‘blog; I’ve got several friends who make notes updates when they should at the very least pop over to Blogger or somewhere and get something decent.

  2. Well, a proper blog isn’t for everybody, and for some, facebook will be more than sufficient. It’s just that if they start “using it like a blog,” then they need to realise that there are better tools.

    Hmm; my friends seem to be informed when I import a note. Perhaps I’m mistaken.

    Can’t find the URL for the XML output (it’s not published in any of the many standard ways). Will have another look.

  3. You should be able to get onto the Aber Uni network if you have an Aber uni alumni email address. As I wasn’t at aber when I joined and I’m still awaiting on the uni people to sort out my alumni stuff I’m in the same boat on that one.

  4. Rockmonkey: There exist Aber uni alumni email addresses?

    Statto: No, you can’t subscribe to the News Feed, just to the Status Updates, which is pretty shitty. There are third-party programs that screen-scrape for you, but the new look-and-feel has broken them. Might write my own.

  5. I was referring only to the notes…they seem to have RSS and Atom.

    As for the updates, do you have a second account? I’ve got one for a statue in college set up with an alternate uni e-mail address (it’s from back in the days when fake accounts were cool because any mug couldn’t just sign up). I can see imported notes on my news feed, but they’re only accessible to other people if they visit your profile, whereas posted items, or Facebook-brand notes, make the person appear on your recently update friends list.

  6. Yeah, but that’s still not so interesting as the whole News Feed. Will write my own.

    No, I only have the one account. It seems to break the point of the thing to have two: I’m only one person.

    Have applied for a UWA alumni address now, in any case.

  7. Seconded, albeit to a rather less technologically aware degree (some of the issues you have with Facebook are things that never occurred to me, of course).

    The only thing I don’t like about the standardised appearance of the profiles is the colour scheme. I can just about handle not being able to slap pretty pictures everywhere, but I really, really don’t like blue. Not that I’m shallow or anything.

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