The PAYNEful Portfolio – Facebook Doesn’t Know How to Talk to Its Users

Facebook did a little thing this week which caused me some concern, as it showed that the people behind Facebook either don’t know or don’t care about how they get in touch with their user base.

Facebook (unfortunately) plays a significant role in my life. I was press-ganged by a group of university friends to adopt the social networking site as a means of communication for university purposes as an alternative to email and, since then, I now use it as an invaluable tool to keep in contact with close friends and relatives (close or otherwise in the latter case). MSN Messenger used to be the big tool I used for talking to friends (and for me in some cases it gets dusted off and used via Skype) but there was a sudden big shift to Facebook as the service gained popularity.

For me, I think one of the main big points for Facebook in terms of the role it plays with users is transparency. By that, I don’t mean it should be honest and upfront about things (it should be, obviously!), what I actually mean is that Facebook should be a faceless, almost invisible entity. I don’t log into Facebook as it keeps me logged in and I don’t mentally process “I am now using Facebook” when I pull up my Facebook page. What I’m actually thinking is “I wonder what’s going on in the world of my friends and family” and then I am pulling up my “wall of things friends have posted”, barely regarding that it is labelled “Facebook”. This is quite key to Facebook’s continued invasion of people’s lives, I imagine. Which is why I was quite surprised at what they did recently.

Take a look at the image below:

Facebook Notifications

This image is what sits in Facebook’s top right corner and plays a key role for me, in that it lets me know that people important in my life have things to say that I might be interested in. In this particular example, I’ve got one person who wants to be my friend, no private conversations and ten public posts that might be interesting to me. This little corner of Facebook is where they say “this is your corner, where you will find all the things shared between you and your loved ones. You can keep that, it’s yours”.

So I was almost aghast at what I was presented with in my notifications this week:

Facebook Terms Update Status

What you’re seeing there is a snapshot of my notifications, with a nice large post from Facebook themselves informing me that they are updating their privacy policy. The shady business of Facebook’s privacy policies is a different blog post for another day, let’s take a look at this status update in itself.

For a start, it’s just damn rude. There’s no other word to describe it; Facebook decided to post in my private feed uninvited. I cannot remember them doing this before, and I certainly hope that this isn’t the start of a trend. They basically invaded that “special area” of mine (dirty innuendo intended).

It also implies that Facebook think they play a major role in my life and that they can barge in unannounced. Don’t get me wrong, Facebook does play a major role in my life, but I don’t want to be reminded about it. I don’t want to be reminded that I’m voluntarily plugging myself into a big corporation’s money machine. I don’t want to be friends with Facebook!

Facebook is certainly huge and can do what it damn well pleases. At the end of the day, however, it is just a service and I am a customer. I think the best analogy I can make is the following: you go into a coffee shop with a group of friends, you purchase some drinks and then seat yourselves and get to chewing the fat. What you don’t want is the barista or any of the coffee shop staff marching over and butting in to let you know there’s a new range of coffee on offer (even worse if they start talking about how the new EU legislation affects the coffee they are drinking!). This is what Facebook did with that one post.

To pour salt on the fresh wound that Facebook just gouged into me, the reason they are butting in is to let me know that the terms are updating regarding my usage data, which in my cynical mind always gets rearranged into “we’re going to shaft you some more, figured we’d better give you a needlessly cryptic head’s up”. Although the status might have had noble intentions, the act of getting my attention this way is now ringing alarm bells. Now I’m more worried about their terms than ever, because it’s right in front of my face! Alright, so what could Facebook have done instead that wouldn’t have been so alarming?

I get an email from Paypal every few months to let me know that their terms are updating. It’s short, concise and, more to the point, tells me that I don’t need to do anything. So I don’t. People are lazy: if you let them know about something that would require effort on their part to look into, they usually won’t bother. I wouldn’t have worried half as much if Facebook decided to pop me an email letting me know about the terms update, regardless of my email settings.

The whole thing is just awful. This was a really clumsy, ham-fisted way of letting people know that something was changing on the service they use, all in the simple ignorant action of placing a status in people’s feeds. Facebook don’t even recognise the importance of the areas they have designated to people as users, or they’re implying that they simply don’t care.

As a final nail in the coffin, clicking the link in the status page takes you to a wall of text. There’s no video or helpful diagrams, it’s literally a page purpose-designed to deter people from reading it. Even if you scroll down to the bit you’re worried about, Facebook doesn’t actually tell you how to do anything, just that you will be able to. I’m looking for hyperlinks to my settings, and there’s sod all. It’s almost as if they are telling us these things so we can all have a couple of months to forget about it just in time for them to roll out the changes in the new year.

Facebook Terms Update
I bet you’re thinking that the link to “ad preferences” takes you to your preferences so you can change them. Nope! It just takes you to another cryptic article in the help section about what the preferences are, but not how to change them or find them. Christ, it’s like Facebook have employed the Microsoft technical support team to write their support material.

Facebook, you’re just bloody awful sometimes.

Post by | November 29, 2014 at 11:15 am | Articles, Opinion Pieces, Portfolio and Work, Technology | No comment

Tags: , , ,