What’s really, truly going on with Facebook?

Posted at 4:51 PM, Jun 26, 2012
(CNN) — Every week, there’s a new Facebook thing to gripe about.

This week, there have been two — and it’s only Tuesday.

On Sunday, it was discovered that the 900 million-person social network was “testing” a feature that would let people see a digital list of the people who were nearby in real life. Called “Find Friends Nearby,” the app was pulled down by Tuesday morning after the Internet freaked out. Commenters said things like “Hell to the naw” and “BAD FACEBOOK!!” and generally complaining that the feature, which was difficult to find, much less use, invades privacy and will lead to stalking.

If that’s not enough, a company named Friendthem reportedly threatened a lawsuit, saying Facebook stole its idea for the location-aware feature. Apparently, Friendthem would like to share the heat.

Item two: A blogger noticed over the weekend that Facebook, without asking permission, had changed the default e-mail addresses of all of its digital residents to accounts. It’s easy enough to change back, as the site Lifehacker and others have detailed, but that little invasion of the hub of digital identity — the Facebook Timeline — was enough to make quite a few Facebookers fire back at their digital overlords. Security researchers called the move dangerous. Normal people felt violated.

“Up next: Facebook inside your underwear drawer!” a commenter wrote on our site.

So that was this week. But it seems like every week has been feeling a little like that.

The fact that an anti-Facebook sentiment bubbles beneath the currents of modern life is, of course, nothing new. When the company introduced the now-popular News Feed in September 2006, users threw a fit — and many abandoned the young network, at least for a moment.

Let’s put the brakes on for just a second and ask a few questions:

Are people mad about Facebook’s individual decisions — the e-mail, the tracking, the News Feed — or do the roots of this discontent reach into deeper, darker places? If it’s the latter, why are people so continually frustrated? Do we hold Facebook to too high of a standard? Is the social network turning its back on users? Or is it just that our digital lives are now so invested in Facebook that it would be nearly impossible to pull out at this point — and, because of that, we feel helpless?

Here are a few theories about what’s actually going on with people’s unhappiness with Facebook. Take a look and let us know which you think is most accurate — or offer up a theory of your own — in the comments.

Facebook has become an octopus

And by “octopus” we mean it’s got too many tentacles to manage. This theory is put forward by the blog the Next Web, which says Facebook is buying too many new companies — Instagram, Glancee — and trying too many new things. (This is a critique more commonly lobbed at Google, especially when it was launching one product after the next that flopped: Google Wave, Google Buzz, etc., etc.)

“When you start packing in more features while you’re removing none of them, feature creep will happen and users will start to ask the question ‘Why can’t they just make it easy for me to talk to my friends?’ ” Drew Olanoff wrote. “After all, that’s why people started leaving MySpace to go to Facebook in the first place, because it simply tried to do too much.”

Writing for Forbes, Kashmir Hill puts it this way: “Facebook would love to be the all-inclusive resort of the Web, replete with complementary digital daiquiris (that you’re forced to chug) upon entry.”

Facebook is a technocracy, and we want a democracy

As Alexis Madrigal writes for the Atlantic, Facebook has evolved into a “technocracy”: a government of sorts that’s run by engineers who value efficiency above all else. When you complain to the real-world government, you can expect a response — or you can use your voting power (or run for office) to push for change. At Facebook, 2 million complaints per week are handled largely by computers and a staff of a few hundred people. Their aim is to process as many issues per day as possible, to help people connect and, as Madrigal puts it, to stop people from leaving the site “by minimizing their negative experiences.”

“Facebook’s desire for efficiency means democracy is out and technocratic, developer-king rule is in,” he writes.

Even when the site does give its users a chance to weigh in on policy, Madrigal says, users don’t take up the offer. In a vote about a recent privacy policy change, 0.038% of users participated.

There’s no competition

Hope and pray all you want, but there’s no other online social network with 900 million people. Chances are, most of your fiends are on Facebook, so even if you try to go to a competing network like Google+, it might be as fun as talking to your cat. Here’s a list of alternatives from our What’s Next blog, but none of them seems like actual competition in terms of numbers.

Facebook cares more about investors than users

Facebook went public this year, leading to criticisms that the site’s motives have changed. Is it focused on cash instead of users?

While that complaint may be premature — CEO Mark Zuckerberg maintains a majority stake in the company, so he doesn’t have to listen to investors and his board all that much — the company’s IPO, and the billionaires and millionaires who resulted from it, doubtlessly cloud how people see Facebook’s motives. And it doesn’t help to know that, in mid-May, you were worth only $1.21 to Facebook.

“How much does Facebook value its users? In strictly monetary terms, about as much as a bag of chips,” David Goldman wrote for our sister site

Or, as Slate put it, Facebook is “conducting an experiment in corporate dictatorship nearly without precedent for such a large and high-profile company.”

Facebook is no fun (anymore …)

I put the question of what’s really wrong with Facebook out on my Google Plus feed, in part because that network is a hotbed for Facebook defectors. Several followers brought up interesting points, the simplest of which is that Facebook, as it grew, became un-fun.

“Facebook started as a social network that was ‘fun’ to update your friends and classmates (since it started for-college students only) and grew into something that can affect your career, reputation and invade your privacy,” one user, identified as Julie Hancher, wrote.

Here’s another thought, from a person identified as Robert Sons:

“Bombardment with stories you don’t care about from people you barely care about. Depression that you’re jealously stalking other’s lives instead of living your own. Shallowness of content. The more content you absorb, the less valuable your own posts seem.”

And I’ll give the final word to Carlos Ochoa, who wrote, simply: “Everyone uses Facebook but nobody likes it.”

Let us know what you think in the comments below.