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Apr. 19 2010 - 4:38 pm | 101 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Facebook’s Community Pages: Half-baked

As part of its continuing campaign to be all things to all users — or, as a post on the company blog has it, “Connecting to everything you care about” – Facebook is introducing a new feature called Communities. Communities are like Pages, only more specific. Or less. I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never been 100% clear on what Pages are, or do. Part of the problem, as TechCrunch points out today in an appropriately skeptical post, is that users (it’s those darn pesky users again!) have been creating Pages under ill-defined topical rubrics like baseball or yoga, thus diluting the service’s original intent that they be product-specific. Communities seem to be Facebook’s response to this dilution:

Community Pages are a new type of Facebook Page dedicated to a topic or experience that is owned collectively by the community connected to it. Just like official Pages for businesses, organizations and public figures, Community Pages let you connect with others who share similar interests and experiences.

This isn’t a bad idea on paper, I guess. But Facebook’s execution is so hilariously slipshod that it’s hard to see where the added value comes in. Community Pages consist for the moment of nothing more than an introductory section gleaned from Wikipedia and a constantly-updating stream of posts matching the nominal topic. The latter seem to have been culled by robots, however, and not exactly the brightest ones in the lab at that. This one’s from the stream on Cooking:

Trip to E.R. for kidney stones…$700.00, I.V. bag for deydration…$100.00, 4 prescriptions…$60.00, Kip cooking dinner, cleaning, and getting kids to bed…PRICELESS!!

You get the idea. It ain’t exactly Mastering The Art of French Cooking, is it?

What this is really all about is real-time search, and Facebook’s ongoing effort to recapture some of the zazz that’s been snatched away by Twitter. (And, in due course, some of the advertising dollars Twitter finally seems poised to collect via its search stream.)  And in fairness, the feature does seem to be in what restaurant people call a soft-opening phase. According to the blog post from Facebook software engineer  Alex Li,

Community Pages are still in beta, but our long-term goal is to make them the best collection of shared knowledge on a topic. We’re starting by showing Wikipedia information, but we’re also looking for people who are passionate about any of these topics to sign up to contribute to the Page. We’ll let you know when we’re ready for your help.

The problem is, in rolling out yet another feature that suggests Facebook is chasing Twitter’s taillights, Facebook cements the perception that it lacks a core purpose. And in tossing one more bit of unfinished functionality against the wall, it only adds to the babble of unculled data in the infostream. That’s not useful to anybody — not advertisers, and certainly not users. It should stick Communities back in the oven. The thing isn’t baked yet.


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    I'm a writer in Santa Monica, CA. I spent some years at Newsweek and some more writing for TV. My freelance journalism has appeared in The New Yorker, Time, Slate, The Boston Globe, Fast Company, Fortune Small Business, Washington Journalism Review, American Journalism Review, American Heritage and TV Guide, and on PBS.

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