Facebook Comments Epitomizes Everything I Hate About Facebook

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So it’s been a month now since we introduced Facebook Comments round these parts, time enough to have given it some serious consideration. And my conclusions are as follows:

…are you kidding me? This is the best a $75 billion company could come up with? Isn’t Facebook supposed to be the new home of software’s best and brightest? Is this some kind of elaborate practical joke?

The whole point of a comment is to make new information or a new opinion available. Good luck with that. As far as I can tell you cannot deep link to Facebook comments, and searching through them is at best a pain and can verge on outright impossible. A memorable comment on my last post included the phrase “I’ve been inside the sarcophagus at Chernobyl”: when I mentioned this on my Twitter feed, I was deluged by “couldn’t-find-it” replies, because it takes three clicks to reveal that sentence… and there is no way to make that comment more visible.

You can’t even sort comments by date – in case, say, you’ve gone back to a previously viewed post, and you want to see what’s new. Facebook’s Simon Cross patronizingly explains why (scroll down – I’d link directly to his comment, except, oh, that’s right, I can’t):

“The plugin automatically sorts the comments based on relevance to the viewing user based on friends, friends of friends and most active posts. We currently feel that a chronological view is not the best view for the viewing user to give them an immediate sense of relevance.”

…which kind of makes me want to burn down his workplace and then salt the charred earth so that nothing ever grows there again. God forbid that they even pay lip service to the notion that users might perhaps be given options—for then they might start to use them, and then where would we be? Sheer anarchy! Far better to reduce everything to a single dumbed-down inescapable standard, relentlessly mediocre and devoid of any color or possibility, like a tapioca straitjacket.

I’ll grudgingly grant that there has been one giant benefit: the army of trolls who used to plague TechCrunch have been reduced to a tiny grunting handful (most of whom log in with fake Yahoo accounts) thanks to Facebook’s insistence on real names. I actually even had mixed emotions about this -

- but I can’t deny that the overall level of conversation has gone up a notch as a direct result.

Balanced against that, though, is the single most infuriating and baffling thing about Facebook comments: they only allow a single level of replies. The notion of “a comment which is a reply to another comment” is built into the system—but you cannot reply to a reply. This cripples conversation, for no good reason, and it’s clearly a deliberate design decision: an ugly, clumsy, and completely inexplicable misstep. It’s like Facebook developers are literally incapable of thinking outside of the box that is their feed.

And the worst thing of all? Next time I build a site that requires some kind of commenting system, I might wind up using Facebook Comments.

Yes, despite my hate and loathing. Because as frustratingly mediocre as it is, it is easy to plug in, and it does solve the troll problem, and everyone’s already on Facebook, and it helps to spread links, and it’s just barely good enough and easy enough that it’s not worth wrestling with alternatives. Facebook Comments is basically Facebook writ small: while it’s maddeningly mediocre lowest-common-denominator crap, it’s not quite bad enough not to use.

But just take a moment, please, if you’d be so kind, to scroll down to the bottom of this page, consider the comments section, and reflect on the fact that what you are looking at is the very best product that a $75 billion software company, one famous for allegedly only hiring A-list talent, was able to build. If that doesn’t make you weep for the future just a little bit, then I don’t know what will.

Image credit: Zitona, Flickr.