In Japan, the philosophy of “kaizen” refers to a state of continuous improvement. It’s a management catchword implying that nothing is ever good enough. Change, in other words, is essential.
The folks at Facebook are clearly “kaizen” believers.
Over the nearly eight years of its life, the technology company seems to exist in a constant state of transition, rolling out changes with increasing regularity. Every time Facebook changes, users protest. The new features are tweaked , then just as as the dust settles, a new change is rolled out.
At some point, though, this continual flux merits scrutiny: Just who is Facebook making these improvements for? The company says it’s all for users. Founder Mark Zuckerberg touts the ease of sharing in the latest iteration. And it’s true that the site has always been easy. While Twitter, with its 80 million users, has a secret code of @ and # signs, Facebook, with its 800 million, relies on our given names, schools and jobs.
The latest changes include instant sharing. Facebook, with clients such as Hulu, Spotify and The Washington Post, can see what you are reading, listening to and watching, and will let your friends know, too. There’s also a page with all your Facebook activity called Timeline, which tracks what you’re doing.
While Facebook says the changes will make it easier for users to keep their friends informed about their lives, the truth is that Facebook is making improvements for its clients — and I don’t mean us. All this information gathered by Facebook will be very beneficial to advertising companies.
Nick O’Neill, the founder of the news site All Facebook, said after the most recent changes rolled out, “I’ve been covering the site for four years, and using it for longer. I can definitely say it’s the first time I’ve reconsidered whether or not being on there is a good idea. The company’s interest is not aligned with my own.”
To O’Neill and others, the changes seem to suggest Facebook is in a race to expose as much information about its users as possible. For example, Nik Cubrilovic, an Australian blogger, found that Facebook never really logs you out until you shut down your computer. A Facebook engineer responded on Cubrilovic’s blog, writing that the company never sells information about users to any ad network and uses the tracking information for safety reasons.
Still, many of us share a sense that we lack control over Facebook and the personal details we share on the site. There is little to stop Facebook from giving our information to advertisers — or governments, or employers, or anyone else.
Even so, millions of us continue to stick around.
The reason? It’s that soft word “friend,” with its promise of trust and intimacy. Facebook has always grasped the human connection we seek online.
Eric Leist, a social media watcher and a huge fan of the most recent Facebook changes, made a mash-up video promoting Facebook’s new Timeline. The video uses a scene from the popular television series “Mad Men” in which the main character, 1960s ad man Don Draper, is pitching Kodachrome’s slideshow carousel.
Draper’s sonorous voice talks about what makes great advertising. It’s about creating “a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent,” Draper says. Over images of moments of his own life displayed on Timeline, Draper says, “It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”
That successful advertising pitch fits with Facebook’s promise. Our lives are important, and if we show them to the world via a computer screen, Facebook lures us into believing. The past does have meaning.
And millions of us have invested so much of ourselves in that promise that our lack of control seems a small-enough price to pay.