I like pork pies.
You will guess this by my weight, or how the women at Preston’s market tend to move towards the piles of them after glancing me in the queue. When braving supermarkets I’m not the kind to scrawl a shopping list of any kind, preferring the word-association games of my skittish short-term memory and somesuch whims. Picking up a pork pie? Then you need cheese, for the blessed delight of a Ploughman’s Lunch. Logical enough, and if given enough time I could justify the five other unrelated items picked up between shelves.
“Like this, you might like the other,” works in that context, and other than people I bump into, nobody is inconvenienced by my wandering about. I’ve not inherited from either my mum or her mother reading out loud from a list, (“Right, Lenor!” holding a list in one hand and a fruit yoghurt multipack in the other), although the finger wagging at certain items is something recognisible from that side of the family. Ah, you naughty marmalade, where are you hiding? Oh there you are!
Anyway, “like this, you might like the other” makes perfect sense when shopping, or even drinking, say at a beer festival or the like. It’s commonly seen on websites as the equivalent of chocolate bars before the checkout. They’re rarely any more logical than my racing from frozen chips to fruit juice, (“People who bought David Bowie also bought Worcestershire Road Atlas 2013 FULLY UPDATED”), but they serve a purpose. Mostly for the benefit of the company, of course, though a purpose all the same.
Where it doesn’t quite make sense, and it’s growing ever more easily dismissed, is the latest regenerated format of associated posts on Facebook, generated by the increasingly bizarre/bored thought processes of the Zuckermoth. I appreciate that the best solution to “Something on Facebook is annoying me” is to switch the laptop off and go outside. If I sidestep that view for the purposes of this entry, the newest take on “suggestive” auto-posts on Facebook is to display arbitrary updates about a subject you like being made by a subject you don’t like. It’s not “if you like a Melton Mowbray, you’ll love this mild cheddar”, it’s suggesting that you’d love buying pastry mix.
This is because the “someone is posting about something” posts have tenuous associations with the subject you like. Or to put it another way, it’s acting like your gran at Christmas. “I knew you liked your music,” she’d say, “so I bought you this.” And with a fixed grin and appreciative peck on the cheek, you accepted the Bananarama Greatest Hits double-cassette with all the love with which it was bought. Facebook has been turning seven shades of bonkers recently anyway, but “someone is posting about something” really is the first clear signs that dear old grannie has just put the kettle in the fridge for the last time.
One example from this very morning is “DMARGENTINA.com is posting about Depeche Mode.” Now I like Depeche Mode, I wouldn’t have clicked the big “Like” button all those years ago if that wasn’t the case. But with all the will I can muster, there’s no like here for the good folk over at DMARGENTINA.com. The cuckoo-bananas thought processes didn’t consider how genuinely disconnected some of the associated posts could be; it’s the closest Facebook has yet gone to spamming itself. I’ve no time for adverts (see the big AdBlock symbol top-right), so why do I need a quick plug for a South American Depeche Mode fan club?
The phenomenon of timeline tag-alongs isn’t exclusive to FB; the unused, unloved ghost town that is Google+ drops “what’s hot” suggestions in the middle of the week old dusty posts in its timeline, which invariably features a long comments section inhabited entirely by the five SEO nerds who still use the site. Twitter has long since embraced sponsored and promoted trending topics. These are just one example for each, though, and rarely interrupt the user experience. There’s not much it can do to control “Want to be a PS4 tester #KONY2012” nonsense, but adding to all that noise itself is careless and clumsy.
Fiddling about with a service which most people are happy with will always cause consumers to look elsewhere. Businesses who use FB for good can as quickly leave as they joined, and with more suitable platforms growing in stature, there’s an ever decreasing number of reasons to justify hanging around whilst newsfeeds break under the weight of so many memes and scams. The company which constantly rebrands, relaunches and reinvents is a company in trouble. Social media has less loyalty factor than almost any other service to which people are attracted; it’s not as though FB has the same customer loyalty as boot polish or the BBC.
In the days of ye olde Internet, of MSN chat-rooms and Geocities and usenet groups, there was a sense that compartmentalising the Internet was a sensible and logical thing to do. In time, the walled gardens of AOL and the like were burned to the ground, as people chose to spread out across dozens of websites without feeling a loyalty to anything they’d joined or left behind. There’s no Twitter instruction manual; users continue to shape and re-shape how Twitter feels, sounds, behaves. Facebook has turned into the walled gardens of the Internet’s past, its grass a dirty sludge of additional extras and unwanted faff. Engaged, savvy users can and will abandon a ship, especially when there’s no financial loss to doing so.
Facebook won’t achieve its aim if people who currently “Like” something switch off because subjects they don’t like now appear on an hourly basis. That’s not “social”, never mind “social media”, that’s just being a nervous man at a party starting every sentence with a tenuous anecdote in a bid to boost confidence.
When I think about bunging together the constituent parts of a Ploughman’s, it’s not on the basis that a pizza could do just as well afterwards. Even if it’s a Dominos make-your-own with pineapple, salami and sausage and…..Oh drat, hang on…..