I'm getting a dark techie feeling lately that I hoped I wouldn't return to: it's the sensation I had when I cracked open my new Dell Inspiron laptop in 2005 and was left grappling with all the bloatware already clogging my 60gb hard drive.
This time that feeling comes when I open up the Facebook or Messenger apps.
There's honestly just too much stuff, too many unused features, too many new tabs, and all the while feeds are getting clogged by product initiatives Facebook is trying to shove at people. What I once would have described as Facebook being "nimble" in trying a bunch of stuff out and seeing what stuck is now just them chasing their growth demons while failing to combine disparate initiatives in a user-friendly manner.
Facebook's success these days relies on the fact that to many people Facebook is the internet and their platform's reach means that they can fill their apps to the brim with updates that will likely fail but could maybe, just maybe, tap a massive market. So many other technology startups have to approach feature updates with laser precision, on Facebook that concept matters less because at this point, it’s essentially a public utility. While platforms like Snapchat see each new feature push the boundaries of the app's overall scope, Facebook is an expansive browser that's always brainstormin where it can beg, borrow or steal your attention away.
The issue is that at a certain point, it's stealing your attention away from its own initiatives. Recently it feels like Messenger is filled to the brim with so many unrelated expansions that it's hard to even find where your conversations are on the screen at times. Meanwhile, the main Facebook app seems to constantly be switching my bottom tabs in an attempt to brute force its way past its own insecurities. Marketplace houses commerce ambitions. Watch is a home for original content hopes. Explore is where the site's media ambitions become more outright.
With so much overcompensation, where do my interests fit in?
Meanwhile the hamburger button in the main app houses an almost comical amount of feature copies from other tech companies. Facebook doesn't just connect me with friends, I can find a new job! I can order food! I can clip coupons! I can shop! I can send money! And, thank god, I can scan QR codes!
In the midst of this, Instagram has morphed into such an elegant, fine-tuned hub of content creation that it's so easy to locate Facebook's own shortcomings in pushing people to keep sharing their own stuff. I've seen more feature updates get pushed regarding Live and 360 photo/video than I've actually seen friends using them. Facebook and Messenger stories have been ghost feeds because people aren't using FB the way they once did. Facebook is turning into a more passive web experience and it doesn't necessarily need you to contribute to thrive anymore, your data is enough.
The problem is user-generated content is always something dangerous to minimize in a long-term growth strategy. Even as Snap, Google and Apple are declaring full-court presses on phone-based augmented reality camera feeds, Facebook is pushing ahead as well, but the fact that people aren't accustomed to taking photos directly within the app will be a daunting challenge for them to overcome. While Snap is “a camera company,” and OS-makers control the stock camera app, FB’s efforts may forever be just another icon holding a hidden feature set.
Facebook and Messenger are wildly prevalent apps, but it's becoming harder and harder to tell what their missions are. Every new feature presents a new opportunity for Facebook to expand its ambitions or get more insights for their advertising engine, but it's also a chance for me to get fed up by the constant clutter of Facebook's ambitions.