Stupid Facebook Tricks

I understood back when Facebook had so much trouble scaling up their systems for the avalanche of growth in their user base that they experienced early on. I even understand, somewhat, their repeated, sneaky assaults on users’ privacy, as they introduce waves of “features” with default settings that scatter personal information to the winds; that’s how they make the money that pays for the service so many people eagerly use, despite its drawbacks. Those offended by the practice have a sufficiently obvious solution available. But my latest experience with buggy features within FB just puzzles me.

I attempted to update my profile with school and employer information I’d never before seen a need to add. The search interface turned up the University of Washington just fine, but nothing much showed up for the iSchool (two-thirds of whose current student body appear to be active on FB at any given time, for some reason). That’s OK, I could add it as a major. A bunch of different options popped up for St. John’s College, one of them seemingly related to the Santa Fe institution where I earned my BA, but none looking very authoritative or active. Maybe the Johnnies have just been busy hunting for their reading glasses, or they forgot where they put the power cords to their computers.

Then I went to add a former employer, and the only option I was offered was some random page created by who knows who for who knows what purpose. I knew from long and occasionally painful experience as a member of the social media team that the organization had an official page, lovingly maintained and rather actively followed by a group of professionals working in its domain. Why would FB stubbornly show me only the randomly wrong page instead of at least letting me go find what I knew was the right one? Indeed, an effective user interface would reliably deliver the right one, based on traffic or other indicators internal to the system indicating priority. Instead, FB gave me only the wrong option, so that information isn’t part of my profile. Worse, someone without my level of involvement in the right page would have little indication that the page offered was the wrong choice, so given only that one possibility, their selection of it would validate it as an option just by its use and make later users that much more likely to repeat the mistake.

Omission of my former employer from my FB profile harms pretty much no one, including me, in any direct way. I don’t really use FB for any professional purpose, and my updates were motivated only by a sense of completeness (possibly supplemented by boredom and avoidance of more productive but strenuous work, I freely admit). Some people do want to use FB for business, though, and FB seems to be in favor of that option. Why, then, does its user interface actively discourage a key part of that process? This defect actively resists the sorts of uses FB wants to encourage, and it gets in the way of the users whose personal information it sells as its primary (or only) commodity.

Even maintaining multiple entries on an organization or other entity rapidly and substantially erodes the value of the service. The system encourages, at least tacitly, the clutter of fan pages and groups and topic pages and other clumps of data, all about the same damn thing, that dilutes any meaning it might offer to users. The jumble pushes the good information down the long tail along with the bad, and all of it makes the rest of it harder to find. Instead of digging for the pony, FB appears to go out of its way to shovel on more manure.