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facebook, time to grow up

Originally published on August 28, 2006

I appreciate how Facebook has enabled me to connect with colleagues, and (younger) family members in a manner that is both informative and expressly cordial. It attracts students like Nutella attracts chocolate lovers, and because of that, I see interesting potential here. In fact, one of our faculty members at Penn State plans to try running his human-computer interaction course through Facebook this fall. Definitely worth pursuing.

I continue to analyze ways that I could harness the functionality of Facebook and recommend it as a venue to my colleagues. For starters, admissions and academic counselors could use it to connect with prospective and current students in an open forum. Likewise faculty. Likewise student mentors. Furthermore, professionals of all ilks within the educational system could use it to share information and resources. Not to mention cultivating new alliances and friendships. In short, creating a powerful network.

The problem is, Facebook's online functionality currently is far too rigid and uncustomizable, thus knitting itself too tightly into to being an online dating and buddy system. Meanwhile, more and more professionals are setting up Facebook profiles and then wondering what they can do with them. Judging from all the blue question marks, many never bother to go back again. Why should they? What does Facebook do for them? Not much.

Come on, Facebook. This is so unnecessary.

It's not that hard to provide users with the ability to add customizable information wells. Really. It's not.

We're talking relatively simple programming, here. So why am I limited to subdivisions of information such as "Favorite TV Shows?" Just how useful is it to designate 1/9 of my profile to "Favorite Quotes?" And who really gives a damn about my political views, anyway?

The point is, we should be able to manage our profiles in patterns that function for us as individuals and professionals - and then connect with one another based on these patterns. Think of the power of cross-referencing this customized data and metadata. Now that's networking.

Next, you need to fix your drill-down, Facebook. Not everybody using it is looking for a date. So why are we maddenly forced to select a 7-year age range? Why are we are allowed to browse based on all manner of relationship criteria but not on job titles, research or teaching interests, area of expertise, or anything professional beyond a single college degree and a single graduation year? And if we do manage to negotiate all the fussy drill-down restraints and select a criteria combination that provides a large yield, the interface throws up yet another wall, stopping our record view at 500.

So, forget browsing. Unless you know precisely who you are looking for, it's pretty impossible to run across anybody in Facebook.

Kind of the antithesis of networking, when you think about it.

I've sent some suggestions to Facebook. We shall see. Until then, if Facebook has hopes of appealing to a more diverse audience, it has a lot of maturing to do.

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