For photographers, Facebook is one of the big letdowns. It began as a great new way to get your photos seen, and to connect with people who liked them. But in just a few years it went south – and today, it often seems like a river of trash. Was this inevitable?
Admit it: few of your friends still post anything on Facebook, they just glance at political clickbait and move on. To get seen by strangers, you have to pay money to run your post as an ad – or else you’re invisible (see this post). Even then, the ad targeting doesn’t really work – it’s too easy for Facebook to just show your posts to random users who like to click “Like”.
So your circle is shrinking. People have just lost interest, and the question is, why? I think it comes down to what Silicon Valley calls a “poor user experience” and what I call a high ratio of junk to content. And that has 2 causes: the ubiquity of smartphones, and the fact that Facebook is free.
Facebook and the iPhone were both introduced around 2007 and came into wide use in the next couple of years. It should have been nothing but synergy between them, right? But by going all in on smartphones, we doomed ourselves. Phones were like lead poisoning to the new “social network’, ultimately stunting its growth and making it dumber.
Why? Because Mark Zuckerberg decided right at the start that Facebook would be free to users, and that once he had enough of them, he’d sell advertising. The business exploded, investment poured in, and to keep those investors happy, Facebook had to run ads – lots of them – and then, even more…
And phones are small. On a PC screen, a site can show content AND ads, side by side, just like print media. But for a mobile site, a choice always has to be made between content and ads because there just isn’t room for both at the same time. And when your business is ads, well, the choice is easy.
Sure, you could use a PC, but Facebook still needs you to look at those ads. So it doesn’t matter if you have a 30″ display – Facebook essentially puts a smartphone right in the middle of it – surrounded on both sides by doodads you never use, and more ads. 1990s AOL made better use of screen real estate.
This is Facebook today: a single, narrow, vertical column of posts interspersed with ads. To get more stuff you’re interested in, you have to scroll down… endlessly… continually raking ads and paid posts over your eyeballs. Pretty soon your attention is wandering – don’t you have something else to do…?
I’m writing this on February 3, 2022. Today, Facebook (now Meta) lost 26% of its stock price – $220 billion in paper wealth – the biggest one day meltdown in market history. The collapse was triggered by figures showing a loss of 500,000 users last 3 months of 2021 – the first time Facebook’s user base had declined. Will this change anything for Facebook? I don’t think so. Phones aren’t getting any bigger...