Facebook! It’s a confusing mess these days.
The network, in its efforts to become a bit more social again, has drowned users in new features, tests and other distracting knickknacks — and for perhaps the first time in the service’s 13-year history, it’s not altogether clear what you’re supposed to do when you log in each day.
A quick rundown: In the past few weeks, Facebook has introduced a “Stories” feature, a new way to post colorful blocks of text as status updates, a “false news” identification tool, and, for some users, a new “rocket” icon that connects to an alternate news feed filled with bits and bobs you’ll supposedly enjoy interacting with based on what the company’s algorithms understand about your behavior. That’s a lot!
And actually, it’s an incomplete list — we just wanted to brace you. Facebook has also rolled out a new pop-up tab system on desktop that shoves comments in your face if you’re mentioned. Combined with other features, you get something that looks like this:
Also in March, Facebook introduced a rejiggered way to display comments in its mobile app, so it looks a bit more like text messaging someone:
So that’s six fairly large updates to the user experience rolled out in a matter of days, and that’s only considering Facebook’s core app. (Many of us also use Messenger, which just saw the release of a new automated assistant.)
And the pile-on seems more reactionary than innovative: Facebook, the world’s largest and most successful online social network, is no longer the cool place for people to post their personal content, as a 2016 article in The Information explained. But people and their data are Facebook’s bread and butter.
Thus, the social network is doing whatever the heck it can to look a bit more like the other apps you actually enjoy using in the vain hope that you’ll return to its blue and white pastures. But the mishmash of features has made Facebook a confusing mess to navigate, and it may be the clearest signal yet that our social interactions online are becoming fractured.
You may sense this already. Perhaps your daily app regimen consists of Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram now. They’re all incredibly refined products — note, of course, that Facebook owns Instagram — and some of them are better at certain things than others. Snapchat and Instagram make sense as repositories for your Stories — sequences of photos and video that are live for 24 hours — because you post visual media on those platforms already.
Facebook, meanwhile, shoved Stories into its core app, and no one’s using it — probably because it flies against the way many of us are accustomed to using its product.
The social network is an important product: 1.23 billion people use it every day, and its degradation would mark a significant turning point in how we interact with one another through computers.
And no, the sloppy roll-out of a few mediocre features won’t ruin Facebook. But mark this moment as one when the cracks in its platform started to show. We’ll see if it patches them up.