Well, that didn’t take long – Facebook Home is already being parodied on YouTube, in a video which actually ends up making a few biting comments about the potential problems the new application will face. For example, will the promised monthly updates to Facebook Home end up confusing users as to the basics of how their phone operates? Where will the ads (you know they’re coming) eventually appear? How aggressive will Facebook become when it comes to filtering content from friends on our phone, a platform that’s more personal and private than Facebook proper?
These are the serious questions which the jokey – and yes kind of hokey – video addresses. (What is with that guy’s wig, by the way?).
Here are a few points worth considering:
1. Do people really want a Facebook phone?
In the video, a guy says: “The first feedback we got when we told people Facebook was developing a phone, was ‘Stop. Don’t do that. Nobody wants it.’ But guess what? What if they do?”
In reality, while it makes sense for Facebook to more closely align itself with the mobile platform, the question which no one knows the answer to yet is whether Facebook Home is something the large majority of Facebook’s Android users will want. This is a very bold experiment, especially considering that CEO Mark Zuckerberg touted Home yesterday as “the next version of Facebook.” That remains to be seen.
2. Facebook Home will be updated every single month. Because Facebook users love change?
“One of the great things about the Facebook website is how often it changes. And we’ll be doing that with our phone as well,” the video explains. “This month, the number pad looks like a regular phone. Next month, maybe we hide the numbers from you…or just move them into crazy places.”
Ha ha ha. But…
The pace of innovation moves quickly, and Facebook’s hacker culture embraces the motto “move fast and break things.” Mainstream Facebook users, however, have proven more resistant to change, starting with the introduction of the News Feed back in the day. Historically, whenever the network made a big overhaul, a vocal minority would complain loudly. Facebook even used to engage these users through a site governance process which allowed anyone to vote against changes to the network. This never took off, however, so Facebook shut down the governance structure this December.
That being said, just because users weren’t actively participating in a voting process (it’s arguable that few knew such a thing even existed), that doesn’t mean that they find the constant change Facebook delivers welcome. Anecdotally, at least, we hear stories of user confusion (Where do I get to that section again? What does this do?).
The ongoing changes are not enough to force users to leave Facebook in significant numbers – if anything, it helps keep the network relevant. Plus, Facebook has become too important for most to abandon entirely. But the general confusion that ensues as things like the Timeline arrive to replace profiles, does say something about users’ willingness to seek out and install ever-changing mobile software that’s designed to entirely take over their phone’s interface.
3. Wait, there will be ads on my phone?
“I love how the ads on the phone are off to the side, and they’re pretty well suited to my tastes,” says a smiling woman in the video. “But it’s hard to say, since they’re in Portuguese.”
OK, Facebook doesn’t tend to show users ads in languages others than their own, but the ads aren’t always relevant. The bigger question is whether or not users are so enamored of Facebook that they’ll choose to adopt software that will place Facebook ads right on their homescreens and lock screens.
Today, Facebook Home doesn’t include ads, but according to reports, the ads will come. “There are no ads in this yet, I’m sure that one day there will be,” Zuckerberg said when asked about how Facebook Home will make money. And when asked if the ads will appear in the Cover Feed, he said they would.
Um, no thanks?
4. Will Facebook’s algorithms get too personal? Are we okay giving up this much control?
“Once people on Facebook got too many friends, we had to start showing only some of their posts to you. The F-phone will work the same way,” the man in the video says. “Face it, you get too many texts. So we’ll filter them to show you only the ones that are most important to your life.”
OK, Facebook probably won’t start hiding your text messages from you, but the overall point here is that by allowing the social network to control how the user interface on your Android phone looks and behaves, it could lead to issues where it’s not always making the best decisions on your behalf.
What if an update changes the experience, causing users to start missing things because they’re no longer where they used to be located? What if people become so reliant on flipping through the Cover Feed’s selections, that they begin neglecting those posts which didn’t get included? What if people stop heading into the app to engage with Facebook, forgetting about the other people and sections on the site which aren’t highlighted by the Home experience?
“I don’t have to decide who to call any more. The phone decides for me. I haven’t talked to my family in months,” adds the guy in the wig.
At the end of the day, this is a question of control. Facebook is asking for quite a lot of it with Facebook Home. Unlike other Android Launchers, it’s not about personalization – it’s about turning over the phone experience to Facebook entirely.
The video makes a number of other points as well through its jokes, questioning how dependent users will become on Facebook for phone calls, as it integrates more deeply into the OS, or whether Facebook Home will impact dating or enable stalkers. Those latter two jokes fall a little flat, but there is a lot of curiosity about Facebook Home’s potential to begin routing around mobile carriers for things like VoIP and texts.
Of course, for any of this to matter, people will have to download the app and use it in significant numbers. For now, we have to wait to see if that really happens.