ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog


I am on Facebook, that umpteenth generation networking site that has benefited from the bones and corpses of all the sites before it. I have been using it for some time, and like all of these contemporary creations, I am taken with the complexity of them, as well as what is annoying.

Some very old lessons have been learned and so use of the site is enjoyable. I am pleased with the contextual link-pasting; the Facebook will browse the other end of a link and download whatever images are there, allowing you to “sign” the link with an appropriate icon for what is there. Similarly, links to sites like Youtube will bring up a little Youtube control panel icon so you can go right to the video. It even absorbs the text from the linked-to site for you to choose to put in your provided link. This is some very pleasant contextual pasting, and is a significant amount of years old in the User Interface field… but it’s great to see it in use.

Also like a lot of such sites, Facebook tends to have a flat-field problem; sure, you can say how you know a person and even define the status of your relationship to that person, but you can’t have circles of access to your own stuff. I have a lot of people who want me to be a myspace-like friend (and I want to be the myspace-like friend of others!), with “myspace-like friend” meaning “I have never actually met you and you certainly don’t consider me a buddy, but you are really cool.” There’s no way to really do that beyond holding two facebook accounts, where one is for close friends who you want to tell you’re taking a dump or going to be at some party downtown, and then the other one where you do air guitar poses and let everyone know they’re absolutely awesome for making it down to the club tonight. And also to buy your new stuff which just came out! Which is also awesome!

I can’t blame Facebook for this, because most sites seem to have done no real exploration/experimentation into this realm. You can sort of do it with livejournal, that is, have friends and then “people who can look at your crap”, but that’s not the same as “anyone can look at my crap / people who identify with my crap / people who see my secret crap”. Since Facebook seems to be trying to evolve into next-generation thinking with their stuff, I hope something like this will happen. Unfortunately, we seem to be moving to the next generation of advertisements and choking the site down with absolutely worthless applications, but I can hope.


Recently, Facebook added an instant messaging application.

For a short, almost wintery-frost moment of time, this thing is a delicious buffet of communication delight, a tasty realm of muffin goodness. Let me tell you why.

Facebook’s IM application is made using crazy script thingies and sits on the bottom of your Facebook page, lurking as a little grey bar of decoration. It seems quiet, a still pond or pile of forgotten cinderblock. Most people, and I do mean most, don’t really pay any attention to it.

But what it enables you to do is this:

  • See every one of your friends who are currently connected.
  • Start conversations with them.
  • Browse the Facebook site as if you were not talking on the bottom.
  • Not lose the conversation as you do this.
  • Start multiple conversations along the bottom.
  • Get alerts that people want to speak to you.

It’s the kind of hack that in some circles would get you ridiculed as you described the process by which you intended to do it. This is a bunch of scripting that is implementing its own random protocols, blowing out its own crazy crap in what I’ll bet is plain text to central servers that are, to some extent, archiving the information to get around the fact that a webpage should really really not be a stateful client. This is an insanely bad idea, like when we all rushed headlong into using web pages for credit card purchases long before things were ready. The end justifies in the means, of course, so people don’t mind as long as it’s not them, currently, being screwed.

Since the thing is a security nightmare, it might as well be a complete and total nightmare, like the ones where you wake up and then find out you haven’t actually woken up. So it constantly re-titles the webpage to indicate you got a message. It keeps a list of people who were sort of recently on, applying some crazy routine to determine idle activity on a page. In other words, it gives you a lot of information on people they probably don’t know they’re getting and it does it all the time.

I’m sure someone like Dan Kaminsky will wander along and utterly face-rape this thing into oblivion, but until then, I do want to say what the most important aspect of this new feature is to me, because I love it.

When people are your friends but not really your friends, you are sometimes cornered into being nice and gracious and generous when you really don’t want to be. What saves you, often, is your generosity being in the realm of the inconvenient. “Come by anytime,” you say. “We’ll hang out,” you promise. You are lying. You don’t want this but it’s a nice thing to say. Inconvenience, however, will save you. It’s a pain in the ass to track you down. It’s easy to ignore a mail and claim later that the Internet ate it. You have, in other words, a layer of protection.

This strips that away, utterly and totally. Now, anyone who sees you’re browsing your webpage, people who you listed as your friends but they’re not really your friends, can chat with you right now, right away. You stopped into Facebook to see if you got any mail or to check up on a person you’re supposed to meet with, and now your grey bar is blinking and fucking goddamnit you’re trapped. I absolutely adore that.

I am a communicator. Actually, I graduated from Communicator and past UberCommunicator to OverCommunicator Supreme. I sit on a throne of Way Too Much Talking and I will wield my scepter of Incessant Trivia and Yammering until nobody in my court can stand on their own feet. I know this. It’s probably a big character flaw and maybe I even notice that myself, but sometimes, I just have so much to say or want to say hello or just want to hang out and shoot the shit until the sun burns out and then shoot the shit about the sun burning out.

OverCommunicator Supreme loves that there’s this application that lets him immediately, instantly barge into the lives of other people, people working or browsing or busy with job or life, and go HEY HOW YA DOING. I will delight in hopping onto your couch and starting a conversation you have no time for and no will to endure and oh well, here I am and you friended me and that means something, motherfucker. I am intensely interested in you and now your little offer of Facebook linkage seems like it carries a slightly higher price than seeing my status updates. Salutations, buddy! Welcome to a new level of conversation hell. I am your host and the main act.

This can’t sustain itself as it currently is. I’m sure it will give you easier ways to block people, or turn it off in the preferences. It may be that way now, but people are not inclined to just shut it off until they have a good reason.

I am that good reason.


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  1. Bertrand Fan says:

    Is it really made with Flash? I thought it was just DHTML and a custom comet server?

  2. Steve Lawson says:

    You may already realize this, but you could create a Facebook page for yourself in addition to your profile. Your page would get “fans” who could have that “I think you are really cool” relationship with you without being “friends.” You’d still have to maintain two presences on Facebook, but the distinction between the two would be very clear.

  3. Hairy Fairy says:

    Why is Mark Zuckerberg such an obnoxious tool? I’ll tell you why: it’s because he thinks he’s going to be the next Bill Gates. As soon as people realize that the social networking fad is just that, they will move on. But Mark Zuckerberg will still insist he’s the next Bill Gates.

    What a raging portrait of pathetic sycophancy.

  4. ~ says:

    you really nailed it, you always seem to able articulate exactly what people are thinking even if they dont’t know it.

    the best thing about face-book or (face-crack as i’ve heard it called)

    Is the mutliple layers of communication, which seem to befuddle almost anyone over 30, or with no grasp of logic.

    making it possible to inflict a memetic buffer overflow, in the stlye of The~U.T.

    Where said person is left in a semi-autistic state wondering what the hell is going on, despite it being right in front of their face.

    Also, you are Oarsome!