Archived Story

Facebook tries to fix what isn’t broken

Published 5:46pm Saturday, October 8, 2011

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

Who’s minding the store at Facebook? I ask because it seems like the people over in Facebook town might be the same kids who build giant Lego villages, and admire them for 10 minutes only to knock them down, resolving to build something even cooler.

Last month Facebook introduced changes in the way information is presented on its news feed. A half a billion faces briefly looked up and cried, “Not again!” For five minutes we considered moving to Google +. There was much debate about whether to complain or not to complain. Facebook is free and exists only to benefit the people, right? Like the Salvation Army or The Little Sisters of the Poor. Who are we to protest if they want storm their Lego barricade and start all over?

Alexandra Kloster

This was nothing but a diversion tactic. A few days later the real story spread that a new Facebook would be introduced this month. It would blow our faces right off our books, something that hadn’t happened to me since I read, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

The Timeline was on its way. Following a few steps, users could opt into the Timeline early. Rather than waiting, I ripped the Band-Aid off in one swift motion, and suddenly where my “wall” used to be was my Timeline.

The Timeline gathers everything ever posted about you and organizes it according to month and year from birth to present. I read that this method of disseminating personal information was supposed to encourage shared nostalgia and promote even more Facebook sharing.

I don’t need help being nostalgic. If you’ve ever read this column you know I’ve got such a dysfunctional relationship with nostalgia I barely know what year it is half the time, so this selling point left me cold.

What I found fascinating was the new subscription model. For each friend you can choose to see “all updates,” “most updates” or “only important.” Now that’s interesting. Doesn’t is seem like the “only important” option means Facebook is now judging the worthiness of their subscriber content? Is this a service meant to facilitate communication or arbitrate its value?

I decided to experiment with this feature so I checked “only important” on all my friends to see what Facebook considered essential information. My news feed became a ghost town. Everyone’s statuses disappeared.

It begged the question, what does Facebook deem news feed worthy?

My house is on fire!

The dish ran away with the spoon!

The Rapture’s come to Minnesota and everybody’s gone except my dogs, me, and that lady down the street chain smoking in her Toyota Tercel!

Would any of those make the cut?

Look, I’m hardly anti-Facebook. As a tool for communicating with people I wouldn’t normally get to see or talk to, it’s wonderful. Though I have abused it on occasion. It’s far too easy for Facebook to become in-your-Facebook, which leads to egg-on-your-Facebook.

I wish my friend Erin’s idea of an “Are you sure?” button popping up before you post something actually existed. In my case I’d need a button that yelled, “Hey dummy! Have you lost your marbles?” I once was so angry over a football game that I unfriended all my in-laws because Notre Dame lost to my husband’s University of Michigan. It was, without a doubt, the most damaging, foolish thing I’ve ever done online, especially since I think a few of them were rooting for my team. I’m still trying to figure out how to dig my way out of that mess.

Friends, it’s always been up to us to use Facebook for ill or good, but I’m wondering if the new changes are going to turn social networking into social filtering, relegating the user to a cog in a giant, manipulated personality created by an algorithm not unbridled thought. When we look into the mirror that is our Facebook timeline, will it be our faces we see in reflection or a version of someone else’s choosing?

I’m going to try to enjoy the Timeline, and maybe it will make me forge a closer bond with my friends. Perhaps that sense of shared experience will kick in and I will feel nostalgia for the years I’ve spent on Facebook. Right now, the only year that comes to mind is 1984.

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.