Sometimes, I really think Facebook is not made by humans living in real life, but by the team behind Lemmings. If you’re unaware of this great and old game of the 1990s, Lemmings was a puzzle & platform game where you tried to reach the end of a level by managing a team of Lemmings (a small sized rodent in real life). Lemmings would kept pouring from the entrance of the level and walk like an army of brain-damaged toy soldiers until you would redirect them by commanding one of the Lemming to dig a hole, block a passage, erect a wall, etc.
The funny thing with Lemmings was obviously their “follower” (no pun intended) behavior. If you didn’t pave their way safely to the exit, Lemmings would, at the same pace as they were poured into the level, commit a suicide on a large scale, until you would react and block the threat with one of them. So Lemmings are not individuals, rather a collection of similar individuals doing exactly the same thing, until one is made different by the player (you).
I’ve been working and researching on social media, community, and “viral” phenomenons these 4 last years, and I can’t help thinking that Facebook’s last move is based on an assumption: we, its users, are acting like Lemmings, pouring one after the other to the social network, and (supposedly) doing the same than our “like-minded”, “community”, “friends” and others, one after another. Not much of a surprise when even Mark Zuckerberg thought of us as “dumb fucks” right from the beginning of his venture.
Facebook Graph SearchÂ is showcased this month as a new feature, that will allow to “search the interests, location, and preferences of your friends”. Here’s the video to see it working on cases we’re supposed to do. The usual suspects (The Next Web, TechCrunch, CNET) hesitate between a Google/LinkedIn/Foursquare killer and “a joke”. I’m quite puzzled by the product, though still in beta, but my first opinion is not very positive.
Let’s try to bring a few Lemmings into this and see why we can’t compete as humans.
Lemmings are converted easily, and they do so by the hundreds in a row. Facebook Graph Search, and a sizeable chunk of the online marketing industry, is keen to push as an established fact the power of recommendation. Our “friends” and our “likes” would reveal our inner Lemming, and make us buy, follow, comment and share compulsively any voucher, promo, exclusive content etc. Recent figures seems to find that we’re still beginner on the Lemmings scale, though. In the US, the Black Friday sales stats show how social media failed, and even did worse to converting to sales, with figures around 0%.
And the recommendation, in most cases, is the fact of a neatly organized campaign with massive ad support, as suggests the top 10 Youtube videos of 2012, of which 9 are made by professionals. And even when we begin acting like Lemmings, sharing on each other walls, it doesn’t mean it leads to any sale, as suggest JC Kendall of Tekpersona in a great post on why advertising is a loss of time on Facebook.
Lemmings live – and sometimes die – in a closed game level which they cannot escape but by one gate (the exit). Unlike them, we have many identities, professional, personal, collective or singular, and most people don’t showcase all of them every time in one place. I look for jobs and produce news for my interest graph on Twitter or LinkedIn. I date on specific websites not to be caught, jeered at or event commented on by my friends or my exs, who happen to be on Facebook. I share specific interests of my life in specific forums, social networks and apps, because few of my friends are in retro gaming, martial arts or organic food.
In a nutshell, Facebook Graph Search will not replace the other networks, and history seems to confirm this (see how Facebook Places lost against Foursquare, how Social Readers lost against media websites or Google News, how Facebook credits lost against in-app currencies)
Lemmings, last but not least, are the ultimate embodiment of a scary vision of friendship, where everybody in a community of peers would do, think, feel, buy, choose, read, or f*ck the same way. That’s what Facebook Graph Search suggests in a nutshell. Why discover pictures of New York by a trending artist when I can look the ones of my friends. Why click on “feeling lucky” on Google or “random page” on Wikipedia when I can stick to my friends universe of places, events, interests and likes? In fact, it’s two different meanings of the community that this new search engine reveals, as could have explainedÂ Christian Descamps, a French philosopher, in 1991Â : “Community? Here again two massive meanings are struggling. A first one holds the community to be closing on itself: “I’m from here, I eat here, I like it here, and not somewhere else”. Another just states that we belong to different groups, languages, which, alone, gives us identities that makes us able to open to the universality. Because universality is not given, it is a space to build through exchange, argument, and reasoning”.
This path leads us also to Kant and his theory about “enlarged thinking”. The idea is simple: in the public space, the plurality of the points of views is virtuous when thinking of building universality (yeah, the thing we share all as humans, not as interested individuals claiming for specific rights). Being engaged with different people, thoughts and even contradictory speeches challenges us, defy our meaning of the world, and allow us collectively to build a common universality. That’s where Facebook Graph seems to me to be a closed object, who keeps us enclosed within our community of like-minded peers. Couchsurfing, for instance, would be the complete opposite of this new Graph, by giving to anyone the possibility to connect with foreigners and unknown people.
So no, Facebook, we’re not Lemmings, we want something else than the risk of getting trapped into our friends networks of likes, interests, pictures and so on. I’m almost about to shout as the Prisonner, “I’m not a number, I’m a free man!” (if you don’t know this British serial from the 60s, the similarity between the “Village”, a closed place, and the big white scary and omniscious white ball is striking).