So, Facebook's front page layout has changed again. Hundreds of thousands of users are up in arms about the alterations to the free service, just like last time and the time before.

"[Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg shouldn't have to deal with all this moaning from people who aren't even paying for his product," says someone I know.


The way I see it, you can look at the situation in either of two ways. On the one hand, Facebook users are on a free service and shouldn't expect any realistic right to say what should or shouldn't be on it. On the other, Facebook users are responsible for Zuckerberg's entire income and have made him worth a LOT of money. So can you consider the use of a social network an indirect form of payment?

In practice, Zuckerberg should fashion a site that's attractive to users because he cares about money, and he makes money by having users. But as long as his users aren't going to leave — and the hoards of youngsters dependant on Facebook and MySpace for their mere survival are not going anywhere — he can piss them off as much as he wants.

And that's the crux of it, isn't it? Perhaps Facebook users are paying in some indirect way. But not in any sense that they might stop.

It's funny how things have turned out for the guy at only 23. After all, Facebook was once just another little project in another little town. The thing about it is that Facebook's founders just got really lucky. Sure they're half-decent programmers, or their luck would not have led them anywhere.

But you can attribute the success of Facebook to the fact that they both happened to be developing a good project, with some decent local interest, around the times the market was open for it. Zuckerberg and his friend certainly and reportedly had no allusions to this social networking explosion that we're seeing today. And when you think about it, the concept behind Facebook is ridiculously simple; it just caught on socially, is all.

But amusingly, the client-side of the product now sucks donkey balls. And why? Because of its success.

The story

Two or three years ago investors, the industry and the media found out about Facebook and realised its potential to blossom into an advertising conglomerate, saying, "ooh look, shiny! Once we apply our soft, crappy management processes to this it would be awesome". So Facebook thought, "okay everyone's watching, well we'd best go do that then." Then investors, the industry and the media started to realise that really social networking is just a fad and they lost interest… but too late for Facebook, by now already stuck in the muddy mire of business-driven development. Like a hit and run.

And we, the users, are left with something that's been built on broken promises and empty returns. The client-side AJAX interface is bloated and slow, the site itself is infested with "applications" (supposedly designed to "enhance the experience" of the site) and almost every other quarter along comes a seismic shift in the design of the product.

But it's not a product, is it? It's a service, and free at that. So the question remains: is it fair to moan about it when we contribute nothing but our participation?