The sanitation layer of the Internet

Facebook is clean, while the rest of the Internet is not.

Along with network effects, birthday reminders, news- and information-gathering, and other surface-level benefits, the fundamental clean user experience is what (for now) gives Facebook an edge over everything else online.

Facebook is, in no particular order…

  • safe to log into.
  • trustworthy with regard to basic tools like adding friends, joining groups, following people, and sharing links.
  • devoid of NSFW imagery and similar content.
  • pleasant to look at, with soothing blues and grays.
  • familiar.
  • easy to explain.
  • a just-fine networking tool.
  • well-understood by the general public.

The rest of the Internet is comparably bad. To quote Tim Wu:

Today, you wander off the safe paths of the Internet and it’s like a trap. You know, you click on the wrong thing, suddenly fifty pop-ups come up, something says, hey, you’ve been infected with a virus, click here to fix it, which of course, if you do click on it, it does infect you with a virus, it’s teeming with weird listicles and crazy things like, reason number four and how you can increase your sperm count or something, and you have to kind of constantly control yourself. You have to be on guard, it’s worse than, it’s a mixture of being in a bad neighborhood and a used car sales place and a casino and a infectious disease ward, all combined into one, and that is not relaxing. Yeah, let’s just put it that way.

We could add: those obnoxious full-page ad spreads, malicious JavaScript, phishing links, link rot, post-GDPR cookie warnings on every other website, and programs that install extensions to your browser because you were in a hurry and didn’t un-check that one box in that one view.

Compared to Facebook, much of the Internet is…

  • dangerous.
  • untrustworthy.
  • rife with NSFW content.
  • ugly, gaudy, tacky.
  • weird and full of tricks.
  • devoid of obvious context.
  • hard to explain.

In other words, it’s everything that the Facebook timeline has been designed and engineered to avoid.

If social media companies and their services are as bad as a lot of people think, we should understand the advantages they do provide as part of imagining and creating alternatives. This is one of those advantages.