The Thrill Is Gone, Facebook, Gone Away

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facebook_small.jpgADOTAS – So Quit Facebook Day has come and gone, and although numerous tech media outlets called it a flop, I still find it quite impressive that something like 35,000 users closed their accounts. Sure, that’s 0.007778% out of 450 million, but was anyone expecting an exodus of hundreds of millions of users?

That this simple site attracted ten of thousands to actually quit the behemoth social network kinda blows my mind, but I’m more curious how many people visited the homepage. How many people were intrigued by the notion of quitting Facebook?

Personally I didn’t quit Facebook and I don’t plan to in the near future. It’s the best way to keep in touch and share with my friends in DC and it’s the best resource available at the moment for promoting my musical endeavors (and sometimes my professional ones). But I sure did contemplate it, and so did many of my friends — and I don’t think any of us had really taken the idea of dropping out seriously before.

Suddenly quitting Facebook is a viable option (possibly even a fad, as many poll respondents commented). It’s a valid point that no other service can match Facebook’s offering, but the opinion surrounding the social network has changed from “This is so cool!” to “Well, there’s nowhere else” — from excitement to begrudging acceptance.

As BB King sings, “The thrill is gone, baby, the thrill is gone away / You know you done me wrong, baby, and you’ll be sorry someday.” Someday seems sooner rather than later.

I also wouldn’t call Quit Facebook Day a flop, a term the media uses way too often, because Facebook did change its privacy options once again before D-Day, something CEO Mark Zuckerberg tried to hammer home during an interview at All Things Digital’s D8 conference yesterday — to little avail.

It was painful to watch the interview, not just because (ahem) All Things D’s video viewer kept resetting and showing me an ad every time I paused, but also because I’m grossed out by flustered young men sweating; it was icky to bear witness to Zynga CEO Mark Pincus’ pathetic defense of past sketchy behavior and offer-marketing scams on Farmville.

Incidentally the last time Zuck took the stage at an All Things D conference, Facebook was recovering from the Beacon fiasco — he must have felt some deja vu… Only this time around Zuck himself has been the focal point of much coverage of FB’s privacy debacle, with excerpts from a new nonfiction book examining the Facebook phenomenon showing him as an overgrown fratboy and the leaked script from an upcoming movie about the social network’s rise painting him as an utter asshole.

I also had trouble watching the conference coverage because Zuck simply reeled off a bunch of rambly bullshit and didn’t really answer the questions Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher aimed at him. In particular, they kept trying to get him to answer the question I have been dying to ask: is this what users signed up for? Why are you shoving them into programs they don’t necessarily want?

Zuck bobbed and weaved, definitely not gracefully, dodging this question left and right. His body betrayed his efforts at composure as the stage lights glared off the sweat dripping from his brow. Swisher tried to do him a favor by telling him to remove his hoodie, but even that couldn’t stop the flow of perspiration. It may have been hot on that stage, but the real heat was emanating from Zuck’s seat.

As with the Zynga case mentioned above, the interviewers were trying to coerce something akin to that David Frost moment when Richard Nixon slipped and said, “It’s not a crime when the president does it.” Only this time it’s, “We care more about making huge gobs of money than user experience.”

When asked a question about his widely released college instant message conversation in which he called then-Facebook users “dumb fucks” for sharing their personal information, Zuck admitted doing and saying stupid things in the early days. But when Swisher asked if he felt like he’d been adequately portrayed by the media, he hesitated and then replied with a bunch of drivel that didn’t offer any reason to think that his opinion about users had changed.

It’s hard not to compare Zuck’s lackluster performance with Apple CEO Steve Jobs who appeared at D8 the day before; talked frankly but with aplomb and humor. There was no dodging as he bluntly described his disdain for Flash (which he has articulately done before) and defended his response to the Gizmodo-iPhone fiasco, which many a media commentator including Apple-lover Jon Stewart considered over the top. While I still think Apple overreacted, Jobs’ argument had legs — even if I didn’t agree with him about “embezzlement,” I certainly understood his thinking.

Bitch and moan about Apple’s love of closed systems or secretive nature all you want, but Steve Jobs is a likeable guy, funny even (The “My sex life is pretty good these days, Walt. How’s yours?” reply to Mossberg asking whether Google betrayed Apple is bound to become a meme), which is why people were genuinely upset when he announced his illness has resurfaced last year.

At the time, I was working for TheStreet.com and I was genuinely shocked as Wall Street analysts on CNBC and our site whined about feeling lied to and betrayed as investors. A variation on “Of course, we wish him a speedy recovery….” was included in every column complaining about Apple — of course, of course! My disgust was heavy as a stone, but often you feel covered in pond scum in the world of financial journalism.

But this is not the financial world — in the tech industry, interactive advertising included, many profess that when you put the user first, the profits will follow. Jobs is a great role model for that — Apple’s products have been consistently top-notch because user experience is concern no. 1. Yes, the pricepoint is steeper, but consumers have shown again and again — most recently with the iPad — that they’re willing to pay for quality… Even in a recession.

Once Facebook was loved because it seemed to have similar ethos, but I doubt it can reignite the flame: after Beacon and Instant Personalization, the romance is gone. I believe 2009’s incredible user growth will be seen as the apex of the network.

At the beginning of this year, TrueAction’s Dorian Sweet wrote on Adotas that the top trend to look for in 2010 would be the next Facebook:

“[T]he shifting sand of the user experience is making Facebook seem less fun and more engineered for a business model. What’s likely to come down the pike will inevitably be a lot more focused on filtered information from your personal network and much more relevant ad content opportunities.”

I’d argue the hunt has already begun — there are at least 35,00 people out there looking for something to fill the void.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Gavin,

    Great post. I was going to quit as well. I didn’t because a friend of mine talked me out of it.

    I am going to take the whole Summer off. I am going to turn off all the email notifiers from Facebook. I’ll keep the account open, but I won’t login again until the Fall.

    Why? Because when I wanted to quit it wasn’t necessarily because of privacy but rather, I wanted a change. I also don’t think it makes sense for everyone to be on one social network. There should be various strong social networks.

    Just my opinion.

    Best,

    – hc –

    • Interesting point about multiple social networks — one could argue that’s what is going on with the mobile social networks right now, many strong networks competing with very different offerings.

  2. When faced with having to answer impenetrable hitting questions about FB Security Settings last night at the D8, the Facebook King actually had to keep wiping his forehead with his signature black hoodie, in his attempt to keep from drowning in his own sweat. Have a watch and let us know if you felt just as uncomfortable watching it us we did: http://bit.ly/MZuckD8

  3. I quit Facebook a few months back. I have to say the impact has been much less than I anticipated.
    Facebook is just a phase. I’ll be surprised if it exists at all in 5 years. At the moment social networking functionality is hard to deploy and limited to specialised sites, of which Facebook is the leader. However, people want to connect anytime, from anywhere, whatever they’re doing. Eventually social networking functionality will be built into the fabric of all web and mobile services and they’ll be no need for Facebook. Widely desired capabilities eventually become ubiquitous services within the technology system.

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