If you use Facebook at all, you probably know by now the company found an innovative way to celebrate its 10th birthday: LookBack, a personalized video meant to highlight your best moments on Facebook. It’s been wildly popular among my friends, with dozens of them posting theirs and effectively flooding my newsfeed for the past day or so. I naturally took a peek at my own and found it bland and repetitive. I can’t imagine going through all my friends’ videos and listening to that same background music over and over. For me, this mass-produced video only served as a reminder of the shortcomings of the world’s largest social network:
- As opposed to the recent review of 2013, where you could browse the most important posts from the past year and interact with them, liking or commenting freely, this video is static and forces users to take a seat back, turning them into media consumers instead of offering real social interaction. It’s a frequently discussed trend of major social networks, to morph into media companies in order to raise revenues and the value of ads, but this devalues the social, inter-human aspect of Facebook. Social – and Facebook’s declared mission – is about participating in other peoples lives, not recording moments and watching them later like a TV show – probably why mobile chat apps are growing like crazy lately.
- Some of the data is plain wrong: I’ve mentioned many times before on my blog that photos are added to the Timeline with the upload date instead of the correct date when the photo was taken. In an extreme example, my 10-year-old college graduation photos are assigned to the year 2011. Facebook does prompt users to add the time and place of the photos you upload, but very few people will do that, especially when uploading large batch of photos. I still can’t understand why the site doesn’t scan the EXIF information to set the date and location automatically, especially now when a large proportion of uploads come from mobile devices.
- Videos still offer a poor experience on mobile as long as you don’t have an unlimited data plan and a fast network. This is just made worse by a recent decision to auto-play them by default.
- The posts in the video are selected based on the number of likes and I don’t find them particularly relevant. Some of them are not even ‘my’ posts per se, but instead pictures I voted in a contest years ago and chose to share on Facebook as well. This promotes a self-centered culture based on chasing likes and viral content – the Facebook equivalent of bad SEO practices – instead of meaningful communication.
- Worst of all, the video felt impersonal and distant, not reflecting my social life or conversations. Built automatically by an algorithm with a fixed structure, it left me with the impression that I’m just an insignificant node in Facebook huge social graph instead of actual, unique individual. If people regularly criticize Google for treating people like any other data to be manipulated, this video makes me suspect that Facebook is starting to slip in the same direction.
Despite my criticism, it’s obvious the format struck a chord with the average Facebook user; if this was a test to how video ads will be received, I think Facebook hit a gold mine here. I’m a little surprised they didn’t make them 15s long, it would have been a great way to introduce more people to Instagram…