Facebook and the Future of the Web

Facebook states that its mission is to make the world a more open and connected place, yet this isn’t the exclusive domain of Facebook, it’s a consequence of the open network it’s built on – the web. Whilst social networks have made it easier for people to communicate online, Facebook is attempting to go further by deeply integrating its closed, proprietary network into the fabric of the web. With products like Connect, Social Plugins and OpenGraph, Facebook has become a parasite, suffocating the platform that hosts it. History dictates that monopolies – regardless of their size – ultimately collapse. Will Facebook become ‘too big to fail’? Will its demise bring the web down with it?

My dislike of Facebook doesn’t come from the perspective of having never used it. I joined the site relatively early in 2006. Over time, I found it became less valuable; a utility for procrastination. As the company sought rapid growth, the design moved away from encouraging users to create close personal networks, towards openly sharing every aspect of their lives, with everybody and often unknowingly. The introduction of Beacon – where activity on third party sites could be tracked by Facebook – was a step in the wrong direction. This is a direction Facebook has pursued aggressively since, regardless of pushback from users. I lost trust in the service, and deleted my account (it’s easier to do than you think).

Facebook has a culture of arrogance. It prides itself on a ‘move fast and break things’ attitude, which I find grossly inappropriate for organisation entrusted with the personal and private data of over 800 million people. We know Mark Zuckerberg has strong views on privacy. Now he’s forcing these onto users; regardless of their own views, and often through questionable – possibly deceptive – design choices.

Now Facebook is hoovering up many of the best designers in our industry. As new features continue to encourage users to hand over more personal information, its designers have become devil’s advocates. Much like producing advertising campaigns for cigarette companies, working for Facebook has become an ethically questionable career move.

As more services require a Facebook account to use them, I wonder if it’s set to become the next Microsoft Windows; a popular piece of software that becomes the only choice available. Users of Windows eventually became pray to viruses and malware; will members of Facebook become equally vulnerable?

.net Magazine asked a group of experts what they find most delightful and most despicable about the social networking giant Facebook. This was my full response. An excerpt can be found in the March 2012 issue.