The Tabloid Network: How Facebook’s Golden Egg Could Destroy the Social Empire

If the world of social networking appears to have found a plateau amidst this tech boom, surrounding evidence suggests that this is not for long. If it the Internet seems to be settling for a time, things are going to start changing even faster than they were before. For those thinking the internet will continue to be driven by Facebook posts, Google searches, and occasional Stumbleupon ventures, the exponential growth of various other networks, and Facebook’s growing content-quality problem, beg to differ.

Beginning largely with the outbreak of Twitter and the explosion of Reddit (partly thanks to a kick-start by an unmasking of corporate content manipulation occurring at Digg.com), the nature of the social networks began changing. While Facebook and Myspace found themselves based on content from network members, i.e.: wall posts, pictures and music from member artists, the structures of new social networks find themselves focused on content from outside the network just as much, if not more than content from the users themselves.

While Stumble Upon has been popular for finding random web content, the demands of the people have shown an overwhelming desire for media control and personalization. This desire to personalize, connect, and socialize the web experience is so strong now that even Facebook streamlined its page to cater to outside links- now it’s just as easy to share a news article with your Facebook friends as it is to tell them happy birthday, but as anyone who remembers the first few years of the network know, this was certainly not the case in the beginning.

In the first few years of the network, Facebook merely consisted of wall posts, pictures, and whatever information students had notified in their profile. I highlight students because up until around 2007, Facebook was only available to those with a college email address. Post that on your Grandma’s timeline and see how they react when you tell them how Facebook was originally devised as one of the most amazing ways to hook up with people in college: strict network requirements meant that if you were a Facebook member from the same school, you and another stranger were automatically cool. Social verification would have never been easier- you couldn’t be creepy if you tried if you had more than 15 friends at the same college!

While the network has maintained an impressive amount of that sense of security (remember how dirty Myspace seemed at the end?) it may never attain the levels of transparency it initially had.

So what are the implications? Who cares? Well, besides the college kids who are missing out on something that was truly amazing, the changes that have been brought about to Facebook have come with potential news consequences.

Because the roots of the network are extremely social in nature, individual wall posts and comments will always remain popular, and today those posts share their popularity with only the most talked about news stories.So, when Facebook shows you the most popular posts of the day, you are likely to end up with 5 pictures of the hot person that everyone liked, 15 posts about whatever celebrity died that week, 10 articles about how sad people are over said celebrity, something about Rihanna & Lady Gaga dressing weird, and hopefully something about a maniac on bath salts if we’re lucky.

            In essence, Facebook has transformed itself from a way to meet people into the “Daily You”, a mindless tabloid paper based on you and your friends.

Have you heard phrases “I hate Facebook!” or “Facebook is so stupid!” increasingly often lately? You’re not crazy for thinking it wasn’t always that way. Of course, the changes brought about since Facebook’s inception have their benefits: its always nice to have a clue about what’s on people’s minds or to learn about birthdays and other accomplishments or to hear a popular new song. However, the 7 hours that the average Facebook user spends on the site every month tells us we’re doing much more than just occasionally browsing this tabloid.

In Facebook’s transformations from a college-only social site to the world dominating life-socializing machine, the network may have overlooked some of the natural consequences of its many adaptations and progressions.

To begin, our newfound ability to share media with everyone we know isn’t as amazing as we thought it might be, at least not without necessary filters. People will annoy us, even, and often especially, our own friends, and most of the people who are most annoying are those that voice themselves most often – it’s can be hard to get annoyed with a quiet person.

Why is this important? Because both what you will see on your Facebook homepage and the attention of your friends will end up centering around those who voice themselves loudest and most effectively, or at least in the manner which draws the most attention. Unless you plan using the network only to view individual profiles, browsing through your friend’s Facebook content is most likely going to resemble “US Weekly” in strangely disappointing way.

Of course, there is a counter argument to this tendency of Facebook to churn out junk: why not add only interesting friends? And can’t you decide relatively how many posts you see by a certain person? You can, and, yes, respectively. However, there is a nature of

Facebook which prevents such a thing from happening. The network is amazing for communication and staying it touch, becoming as much of a virtual yearbook/family album as it is a social network. The end result is: the most useful thing Facebook has to offer, and the handle by which it holds its grip on us, is its vast size and the sentimental nature of its connections.

To clarify, the single best service that Facebook offers us is the ability to stay connected to the people that we grew up with. The kicker is that you don’t even have to contact them besides confirming their friend request! It’s the laziest and most thorough Rolodex you could ever conceive of: nearly all your school friends are available for you to reach out to whenever you want, just by clicking a button.

But how do we know that is truly Facebook’s prized asset? Simple. CONTACTS ARE THE ONLY THING THEY WON’T LET YOU SHARE! Go ahead, try it! Go to your Yahoo or Gmail contacts and try to import your Facebook friends. You can’t. Not anymore. It still even looks like you can. E-mail addressed may show up but it will not import the list as contacts.

In the past, this was OK, because in the past Facebook didn’t face have threats like it does now. Sure Twitter grew to epic sizes, but Facebook quickly adapted to do all t

he same things. Then Foursquare and Tumblr joined, and all while Reddit was growing to such proportions that one of the site’s members had to create an image-hosting giant just to host all the images on Reddit, known as Imgur. All of a sudden Facebook was no longer powering it’s almighty rule on users sucked away from Myspace, and the network realized it needed to smother its golden egg to ensure future domination.

The consequences of this smothering are such: Facebook is going to try to anchor itself as an ultimate contact book that people will not want to part with for sentimental reasons. Keep in mind also that users cannot physically delete their account, only ‘deactivate’ it. But you have all your old school friends on Facebook, and it’s free, so

why would you delete it? Well, if other social networks can do the same things, and most of your friends are one them, why not switch to a social network that has all of Facebook’s capabilities without feeling like a mix of ‘US Weekly’ and your 6th grade playground?

Up to last year, that was as simple as importing all your Facebook contacts to your Yahoo email account. From there you could upload your contacts to Twitter or almost any other social network out there, all in only a few clicks! But, in a perfect example of the adage, this was just too good to be true.

The moment that these other social networks grew to be a serious threat to Facebook, after growing off the giant in a parasitic fashion, Facebook intervened in the contact-import capabilities, smothering their golden egg that is your connection to high school crushes and childhood friends. All that Facebook left members with in the aftermath was the ability to “Download A Copy” of your information on the setting page. This download includes your photos, wall posts, chat conversations, names of friends and their email address only if the user has “allowed this in their account settings”. This process requires you to first request the download from Facebook, which then takes up to a few days to generate and often does not provide much contact information. In my experience, my download consisted only 8 email addresses out of over 600 friends!

This recent move by Facebook, implemented in early 2012, means Zuckerberg’s giant will attempt to anchor itself as a separate, permanent entity that houses our

past connections we’re afraid to part with, while other social networks come and go like popular fads amongst your various friends. Because Facebook has prevented users from exporting all of their friends to any other individual network, it is likely that no other network will ever amass anything close to all of your Facebook friends.

The long-term implications of Facebook’s smothering of your hometown connections will be interesting to see. While the network’s direction definitely seems to be continuing in that of the personalized tabloid, millions of pictures and the ability to amass the greater portions of high school classes give the network no indications that they may be slowing down. While the company has taken leaps to protect the assets it sees as being most permanent, its long-term direction might cause the network to sacrifice some of the its other incredible assets, such as it’s insane average of 7 hours of user activity a month. In the end, undervaluing such impressive characteristics in attempting to milk other services may end up driving users away in the future.

If Facebook attempts to isolate itself and become incompatible with other networks, Facebook users who are fans of other networks may decide to leave Facebook entirely. Further, as users are able to freely share their contacts between all networks but Facebook, most people could easily amass a contact list amongst other networks that satisfactorily rivals even their Facebook friends.

Keeping in mind the growing tabloid-like nature of Facebook, consider the users who it may drive away to other networks. Most likely, these would be the users who seek higher quality content, often consisting of the exact same people posting quality content on Facebook to begin with. If we see an exodus from Facebook by those annoyed with the vain nature of the network, then all you have left is those people driving the tabloid culture. Eventually, it will lead to a Facebook that resembles a cleaner version of dirty old Myspace mixed with TMZ and TRL.

Already, the home page of my Facebook is saved from sounding like ‘The View’ almost everyday by the same group of people, and, if these saviors begin leaving, the content could start falling quickly enough to avalanche many users aside from myself away from Facebook completely.

To back up this claim I will pose the very opposite scenario: what if Facebook remained open and allowed users to share all their contacts amongst other networks? Would the network become vulnerable to competition to outside networks? No, and even if it began to occur, we know now that Facebook could always retard it’s contact sharing ability again.

Furthermore, even if Facebook allowed others to share all their contacts with other networks, the most important point is that there is nearly no chance of a network getting even more than 50 percent of your friends, and especially not in any time period short of a few years. Even if the greatest new network came out tomorrow, most of your friends simply wouldn’t hear about it, wouldn’t care to use it, or, for what

ever reason, simply wouldn’t join it. My prime example here is Spotify, which has grown faster than nearly any other network in recent memory; though it is more of a Facebook & Itunes connector and less of another network, the fact is that even though it was absolutely amazing and totally free, it still hasn’t caught on with the majority of my friends. The bottom line is that things take time to catch on and grow, no matter how amazing they are.

Keeping in mind the likelihood that, even if Facebook allowed it, no single network would ever amass all of your Facebook friends anytime soon, consider that the users who join other social networks will not only be exposed to higher quality content, but will want to use Facebook to share that content to more friends. This process is one of the pillars holding up the quality of Facebook content up to its low levels. For example, someone who delves deep into complex articles in the economic world on Twitter may want to share certain articles with more than just their business friends, so they post them Facebook as well. In the end, a sustainable strategy of Facebook demands a focus on retaining the users who seek higher quality content in order for them to uphold the content quality of Facebook by proxy.

If Facebook does things right, the site will continue to be the perfect hub for everyone to stay connected with the largest collection of friends possible. However, Facebook needs the other networks just as much as they need Facebook.

If the social giant attempts to sever its connections to the other networks, especially those highlighting the most quality and varied content, it may soon find itself surviving off of tabloid news and celebrity gossip in the same vain as Pinterest and AOL. If this should occur, we can expect to see dwindling usage and traffic as Facebook content grows less and less varied.

Furthermore, specific themes in network content can create growing disapproval and promote negative stereotypes, and can expose a network to risks of taboo status or unpopularity.

To clarify in a school-like manner: if Facebook drives away the geeks, smart kids and jocks and leaves us only with gossiping girls and drama queens, Facebook runs the risk of becoming un-cool in the eyes of everyone but the drama queens. If this un-cool notoriety grows and drives away everyone but the most tabloid oriented crowd, then not only will it drive away the boys along with all the rest of the non gossip-obsessed crowd, but it will eventually drive away girls along with them when all the boys leave the network, eventually rendering Facebook into a high-tech “US Weekly” chat room.

What Facebook has done by cutting off the connections to other social networks is similar to a school dropping all the extra circular programs but cheerleading. No more computer lab, robotics class, baseball, or debate club. If you want those you have to go do them at home on your own time and you have to call all your friends one by one instead of meeting up at the school. So for all the students that don’t want to hang out at cheer club discussing Britney Spears after school, they wind up better off by changing schools and maintaining their close connections from the old school.

To prevent this, Facebook must support the other extra-curricular programs in order to give their school more variety. If they turn their backs on everyone but the cheerleaders, the only students they will receive will be gossiping cheerleaders, until they don’t even have a team to cheer for.

While Facebook has not nearly destroyed its largest growth opportunities, some recent steps suggest flaws in the company’s future perspectives. If Facebook plans to continue its’ domination of the social world, it must open its doors to other social networks. Allowing members to sign into other websites through Facebook won’t be enough to keep the content quality high (or even mediocre), especially, if the most quality-posting users begin to abandon the network. To ensure quality content, Facebook must free their grasp on users contact information in order ensure that the best content from other networks continues to show up on Facebook.

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