For your convenience. For your security. To better serve you. To offer you the best experience. To better fit our future plans. To comply with regulations. To optimize our resources. These are the blandly vicious lies that companies proffer when they want to take something away from you. I thought I was used to this game, but this week I was actually upset by it again. Et tu, Facebook?
As of this week, we can, by deliberate and malevolent design, no longer send or receive Facebook messages on the mobile browser in my phone. And neither can you. You must download install the Messenger app instead — or, as I intend to, abandon that functionality entirely.
The advantages to Facebook are obvious: it’s much better for a company to have an installed app than a mere web page accessed via browser. And certainly it’s not the most questionable thing Facebook has ever done. It is, however, the most breathtakingly hypocritical.
“Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Oh, the bleakly funny irony. This move flies directly in the face of that so-called mission statement. It quite literally strips us all of a currently existing way to share and connect, and drives us from the open interconnected Web into a walled — and locked — garden.
So if you ever believed in that mission statement, you can stop now. Facebook’s objective is to grow until it is globally ubiquitous. If it happens to accidentally make the world more shared, open, and connected while doing so, I’m sure Facebook’s braintrust will welcome this as a pleasant side effect, but it is hardly their mission. Their mission is to become wealthier and more powerful.
(In case anyone actually believes this change is to preserve the quality of the user experience: don’t be ridiculous. Our phones nowadays are pocket supercomputers. If it works on your widescreen browser, it can work just fine on your mobile browser too.)
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame Zuck. Every growing corporation reaches a point at which many of its internal factions and fiefdoms become, from an incentive perspective, parasites more interested in perpetuating themselves on the corpus of their host, rather than part of a single entity with a coherent vision and policy. If you look carefully you can see second- and third-order symptoms of that kind of corporate decay. It seems clear to me that this is one of them.
This decision isn’t going to hurt Facebook in any meaningful way, of course. Network effects mean never having to say you’re sorry. But I strongly suspect that it’s a sign that bit rot is setting in at One Hacker Way. Remember how for most of a decade Google could do no wrong, and then, circa 2010, its halo finally began to slip? There were little signs that led up to that — signs like this one.
So keep a close eye on Facebook over the next year or two. I predict more misses, more missteps, more clumsy communication, more execution failures, more decisions that seem completely baffling to impartial observers not privy to the internal politics. I also predict falling morale and a creeping sense, among engineers, that it’s no longer quite the top-tier place to work that it once was.
In the interim, I for one will stubbornly and pointlessly resist this attempt to encroach on my phone. If you want to message me on Facebook, you’ll have to wait for a reply until I reach my laptop. Perhaps you can pass the time by contemplating how much more open and connected the world is becoming.