Facebook Looks Beyond Like, But Not Far Enough

Facebook says it's defining a new language for how people connect. In this limited language, you are what you eat, watch, read, and buy.
Facebook's vocabulary is about to expand. Sadly, the range of supported expression will continue to be inadequate to represent people's passions.

At the moment, Facebook supports the word "Like." It's the lowest common denominator of enthusiasm.

Among affirmations that include such gems as "Adore," "Revere," and "Worship," "Like" verges on damning with faint praise. It's cheap, so much so that it gets tossed into, like, every other sentence uttered by those unwilling or unable to choose their words carefully.

It's a milquetoast expression of enthusiasm, ready-made for the disinfected world of marketing, where you can say anything about the product as long as it's positive.

Now Facebook wants to add new words to the mix. At the company's F8 developer conference last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared, "We're helping to define a brand-new language for how people connect."

For further details about Facebook's F8 conference, read Facebook Turns Profile Into Timeline

The new language will provide Facebook app developers with the ability, as Facebook describes it, "to customize the stories that people will generate when they use your app."

These stories will be written in the language of surveillance--not the sinister silence captured by security cameras, but the child-safe terms of social networking.

Apps written using the revised Open Graph API will be able to define actions and objects to be recorded and shared with the world through Facebook's new Timeline user profile. They will be able to publish statements like "Thomas Claburn registered for the New Game conference on EventBrite" or "Thomas Claburn watched The Wire on Netflix." Open Graph apps will share these actions through users' Facebook Timelines.

Facebook developers are no longer limited to soliciting "Likes." In theory, this sounds like freedom, as if the Open Graph API was actually open.

But in practice, the range of sharable expression will remain confined to happy, inconsequential chatter.

"Your app must publish actions that are simple, genuine and non-abusive," Facebook states in its platform rules. And to make sure apps define appropriate actions, all actions defined by developers must be submitted for approval.

Zuckerberg called such sharing "lightweight," and made much of the fact that Facebook's Timeline will archive this dross for posterity.

"Before today, there was no socially acceptable way to express lightweight activity," he said. Be thankful that after today you'll still be able to look beyond Facebook for more substantive social interaction.

Facebook apps will be unable to express the things that people really care about. There will be no actions like loathed, mourned, protested, boycotted, or overthrew. There will be no condemnations of injustice or declarations of political fury.

Apps, in other words, will remain a neutered form of media, unable to contain the rage makes books, music, and film socially relevant and valuable. Apps will be ads. At best, they will be half-truths.

"Timeline is the story of your life," said Zuckerberg. "All your stories, all your apps, a new way to express who you are."

In the words of Facebook apps, you are what you eat, watch, read, and buy.

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