The Weird Reasons that Facebook “Works”

I have a Facebook account, of course. My “friends” list is pretty limited to actual, in-real-life, lives-near-me friends, in part because some younger family members are “friends” and I’m sensitive about what goes on my timeline. (I do have a public Facebook page, though.)

I have a few friends that have transitioned more or less entirely to communicating with me via Facebook’s messaging system, even though they have my e-mail address. I started thinking about why that would be.

First, I suppose there’s an argument that some folks are “in” Facebook all the time, and so messaging from there is just convenient. I’m not sure I buy that, though, because they’re also “in” e-mail all the time, which should be just as convenient. No, I think the reasons are deeper.

I think a big part of it is that, of the entire population of the planet, Facebook represents a tiny “whitelist” of people you want to hear from. That means you’re much less likely to get spam, and you don’t have the overhead of needing to manage spam filters, search through spam folders, and so on. Spam has, in many ways, made e-mail a lot less useful. What would be nice is if e-mail from known people (or domain names) could go into your Inbox, and anything else went into a “pending review” folder. Of course, you’d need to prevent sender address spoofing, which SPF does, but which almost nobody actually uses. So… nevermind.

I think another big factor is that Facebook messages tend to be short and concise. They don’t have e-mail signatures, attachments, and all the dreck that goes with e-mail. In short, we’ve made e-mail suck. I get e-mail from some people where the “extras” (signature, “confidentiality” notice, logo graphics, etc) are triple the size of the actual message.

Then I start to think where else these things apply. What else have I, and others, screwed up in an attempt to make things “better?” Calling a store on the phone, for example. I hate it, because so many companies turn answering the phone into an advertisement: “Hi-thank-you-for-calling-GameStop-can-I-tell-you-about-our-preowned-game-tradein-program-or-our-new-preorder-offer-for-XBox-3Million?” No, dammit. Shut up and let me talk, I’m the customer here.

TV advertising has become just so much spam, and it’s been that way for years. It’s a terrible way to bring original programming to the public (and HBO, Showtime, and Netflix have all demonstrated it isn’t the only way), and there are just so many ads, all the damn time, that we treat it like spam e-mail: into the “ignore” part of our brain. And TV shows are still forced to craft their stories around designated commercial breaks, which means we’re possibly not getting the best artistic product. Yet fewer, more well-crafted commercials might be appreciated and enjoyed – and there’s ample evidence that can be the case.

We see this in the workplace, too. Nobody in an office was deprived of e-mail in this past decade, yet now everyone also has to have instant messaging. Why? Because it feels “less formal” than e-mail. Because e-mail has all that crap attached to it. So why do we use both e-mail and IM? Beats me. Same reason I suppose we still need voicemail, right?

What sort of useless cruft do you have in the workplace that seems useful but is really just making something less useful? What’s redundant? More importantly – why is it redundant? Was it useful at some point, and just became less useful somehow? It’s worth looking at those things, if for no other reason than to understand what happened, so you can watch for it as it happens to the next thing.

[UPDATE: I cancelled my Facebook account. Turns out too much exposure to my friends could have left me without friends. Safer this way.]