After a couple of years of resistance—the result of the fact that Facebook was not available at my school while I was still there—I signed up for the network in the spring of 2007, because I was still relatively new to the town where I was living and I was hoping to find some new friends.
Within a day I met someone in my neighborhood who would quickly become my girlfriend. Nice selling point (and one I’ve mentioned before). We only stayed together a few months, but it made me feel like I had made the right decision nonetheless.
Facebook—even with the backstabbing of its corporate backstory as a backdrop—eventually evolved into a way to connect with friends and old colleagues, while it brought on other services like Instagram and WhatsApp. Maybe a few too many people from high school, but it’s good to know they’re still around.
But over time, these services changed, seemingly to meet the needs of a specific audience that was attractive to advertisers. Instagram, for a time, seemed immune to these changes, in part because of the influence of Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who could help to ensure it largely stood by its original goals.
But then, System and Krieger left, in part because Facebook decided to meddle in the network, which (mind you) was outpacing Facebook’s own growth and arguably didn’t need Facebook’s input on functionality.
Casey Newton put the loss of the founders this way back in 2019: “Systrom and Krieger had unshakeable beliefs about app design that served them very well, and now that they’re gone all that is left is for Instagram to become a reskinned version of the Facebook app.”
Well, maybe not the Facebook app.
Facebook, which I refuse to call Meta out of a lack of respect, then fell back on some old tricks in an attempt to compete against a competitor it did not own, TikTok. The last time a big social network emerged that gave Facebook a run for its money, Snap, the company decided to add the Stories feature, which became a popular, highly engaging form of interaction on the platform.
To battle TikTok, it added Reels, a feature that the company sees as its future, and slowly tried to bring in changes that encouraged posts from people that the user does not follow—a clear nod to how TikTok works. The company has implied it plans to continue in that direction and even expand on it, even make Facebook work like that.
Adam Mosseri, the guy who runs Instagram these days, attempted to defend this approach on Twitter with a video that defined new levels of cringe.
The problem with such an extreme change, even if it pleases advertisers, is that it is not what users signed up for. If I knew I was going to be signing up for a network where I would be constantly fed content from strangers in 2007, I might have skipped out on Facebook, and I bet a lot of other people might have as well.
I think a lot of people could have lived with a version of Instagram that had a taste of all of these other things, and can likely live with a Facebook with these additional features, but letting those features take over, then implying that people are wrong because their behaviors on a platform that’s designed to be addictive don’t match what they actually say they want, is messed up even at Facebook scale.
Instead of letting the recent algorithm findings define their every move, they need to take a step back and look at the motivations of their users. What originally got them to join? Are they getting it now? And if not, why is that?
Facebook is still a multi-billion-dollar company, but that could quickly change if the company doesn’t figure out the limits of data-driven decision making, fast.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 1 minute, 30 seconds