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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Facebook as AOL - Proprietary Interfacing

Way back in The Day, AOL (America On Line) basically was the Internet for most Americans. Years after its heyday, there are still some users who could not function outside of AOL's Homepage interface.

For the most part,  this interface was a kind of menu that allowed you to access various sections and features unique to AOL -- things like your file manager (where downloaded files are kept), chatrooms, news and entertainment features, and so forth. In the middle of all of this was AOL's "Homepage" which was exactly that: A customizable homepage not unlike My Yahoo! or similar. While customizable to an extent, there were numerous elements that were permanent fixtures outside of one's control.

It's been years since I have even seen the AOL interface, but I can remember the gist of it fairly well and somewhere in there was a browser. To be sure, this was just that: A browser that allowed you to access the WWW but with all sorts of inherent restrictions, banner ad containers, and more that were unique to AOL.

Facebook operates similarly but with different features and content. The Homepage has been replaced with the Timeline or TL. I do not feel the need to describe these things, as FB has become so ubiquitous in our culture that everyone who has an interest in reading this article already knows them and there's no need to worry about the life of this post.

Again like AOL, Facebook keeps a tight rein on these features and their customization options. It also seems to choose what options are available for which content and how they operate. For example, I only sometimes receive notification when a post to which I have "subscribed" or on which I have commented is updated, even if I choose the "Get notifications" option. I have also discovered comments that were, somehow and for whatever reason, "hidden" from my view.

In fact, I discovered that I need to switch post comments from "Top Comments" to "Recent Activity" in order to see comments that refused to appear for some reason as "Top Comments." Even worse, the only way to be certain that I have seen all of the comments on a post is to open it up in its own window (you can do this by clicking the timestamp, which also serves as its direct link).

I have had a lot of problems with the auto-tag feature, which automatically populates and tags people and pages whenever you type them. This gaffe, in particular, is especially frustrating, as it sometimes refuses to tag even when the entire name/page has been spelled-out.

I am not so paranoid as to think that all of these instances have been somehow engineered for a desired effect but they have occurred with such alarming frequency and in such ways as to lead me to believe that, in at least some cases, they really are being somehow manipulated. Much in the way that AOL tightly controlled its content, even disallowing the user from accessing certain websites that did not meet its "community guidelines," I believe that Facebook is intentionally rigging certain features and functions to elicit specific returns.

A great example is "World of Warcraft," which refuses to populate whenever I am working on a Page and only sometimes tags when I am working on my own profile. I truly believe it has been rigged to respond this way in order to press Blizzard into paying for traditional advertising, thereby effectively killing any word-of-mouth campaign or "buzz" the product might generate, such as after a new patch.

This sounds a bit paranoid and crazy so I'll leave it at that for now. And we'll wait and see...

© C Harris Lynn, 2013

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