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Sunday, December 23, 2018

Social networking and dog food

"Eating your own dog food" is a phrase I apparently picked up here in the valley. It's something you hear inside a company that produces things which are then used by people outside the company. If you're not familiar with it, it means the employees get to use/consume the same product that their regular customers do, too. Imagine an actual dog food plant where none of the employees fed the product to their dogs. Having it as a forcing function would hopefully make the employees keep the product above-board so their own dogs wouldn't have a bad time.

So now, let's talk about Facebook. Yes, the thing that has two billion people using it and eminates from Menlo Park, CA. Basically, I noticed something, and a bunch of other people did too, but nobody outside the company seems to know about this. I figured it's time to write about it and get it on the record somewhere.

Okay, so, back up a few years. You're a new Facebook employee. You get your laptop and your phone, and access the internal company network for the first time. You'd click this magic button which would add your (existing!) FB account to various lists which would then let you access "FB-only" stuff. You could see internal company groups. You could post with "FB only" permissions. Stuff like that.

Your brand new "work" stuff just started interleaving into your existing newsfeed and whatnot. If you grabbed your phone and looked at what's going on, you'd see a mix of "so and so's dog just had puppies", and "the ads team pushed a change during code freeze and took down the whole thing". The posts would be interwoven seamlessly.

Browsing Facebook would give you a mix of what's new at work, plus what's new in the lives of whoever you were already connected to.

Employees were encouraged to "friend" each other. People in their first few weeks at the company go through this "boot camp" process, where they sit together, do a bunch of starter tasks to learn the internal systems, and start trying out teams. Those were frequently your first new work-based friends. Bits of their lives would cross over to your feed and you'd learn things about them. They probably seemed "more human", believe it or not.

There was another side of this, too: some of us (myself included) didn't even *have* FB accounts prior to working there. This was not a particular judgement on the service on my part. I figured, if one billion (back then) people "get it", and I don't, I'm the weirdo. Nobody cared that I didn't have one when I interviewed. It would sort itself out when you got hired.

My account was created about a week before I started. It happened because you need to have one to "log in with FB" and set up various details of your upcoming employment: account name, laptop type, phone type, and things like that.

Put these pieces together and you realize something: FB proper was the way that things got done at work. You had to use it to be effective. This meant a bunch of people like myself now had reasons to use FB constantly and therefore "eat the dog food". The desire to excel at work and stay up to date with goings-on brought along a side offering of updates in the lives of non-work people, and it seemed to function well enough.

This was the situation for several years: everyone ends up getting on FB, and more often than not, start friending people who they worked with. It would start with boot camp, but subsequent teams, and other folks you'd meet while working on things would show up, and pretty soon, you were "plugged in".

Then, something changed. You may know it as "Workplace".

Remember when I said that there were "FB only" groups and "FB only" privacy you could set on posts to your own timeline? Someone decided this would make an interesting product that could be sold to other companies: internal groups, and keeping track of who's doing what, and things like this.

Unsurprisingly, the "dogfood" thing applied here, too. The first instance of it was for FB itself, and new hires were encouraged to set it up when they joined. They would no longer get "work stuff" stitched into their normal FB feed. Instead, there was a separate URL, a separate app for most things (no more "big blue"), and even a separate app for chatting. The worlds were no longer connected.

Slowly, new people started showing up in the "@work" (later Workplace) world. There was no reason to "friend" their coworkers back on "real" FB. Everything they did in a work context would just show up on their work feed. Their personal feed remained separate.

At some point, they apparently stopped offering this as an option and just put it forth as the way you get started at the company. New hires were then sent into @work/Workplace, and never even knew about the old ways that some of us had been using all along.

While this was going on, there was a growing push to get everyone to migrate over to Workplace. They used the dogfood argument: the company was selling this to other companies, so people should be using it to see what it's like, and find bugs, and all of the usual reasons.

Then, about a year ago, there was a decree: there would be a forced migration. You should *really* get this done. If you don't click this button, we will "click it for you" by a certain point. Then everyone will be on Workplace, and nobody will have their work and personal worlds mixed on FB proper.

This happened. The migration occurred. All feeds were split. Everyone now had four apps on their phones - FB, Messenger, Workplace, Workplace chat. You'd now keep a different tab open in your browser - the Workplace feed, not FB itself. That sort of thing.

But, something else came with this. I realized I no longer had any reason to "check on" the regular side of FB. All of the work stuff that kept me coming back to it was gone. Almost overnight, I went back to the position I had taken before: it's useful for many people but it doesn't do anything for me. So, I stopped using it regularly.

It's not like I was going to keep *two* tabs open in my browser - one for FB, one for Workplace. A FB session can be enough of a drag on your browser, and two of them? No thanks. Also, now that I had two new apps on my phone, I was now out of real estate on the main page. Guess what? FB and Messenger were pushed off to some other page. Workplace and Workplace chat replaced them. It was my work phone, so it did work things.

Other people privately related this kind of story to me as well. They used to be a "daily active user" of FB itself, and now they had fallen to maybe "weekly". They weren't sure how far it would go. Would they make it down to "monthly"?

I think it will be a long time before people realize what's happened, and by then, it'll probably be too late to do anything about it. The news cycle about the company in the past year shows that things have gone completely off the rails. Could a fundamental disconnect from the outside world be the cause? It's a tempting thought.


Epilogue: I've made a guess about how things will turn out in the long run, but I don't want to say exactly what right now. So, let's try something different here. I've put the prediction in a plain text file and I'll keep it stored locally, and we'll see what happens.

Here are a bunch of hashes for the same file, with the idea being that it's probably REALLY HARD to get collisions for all of these algorithms at the same time.

$ md5 prediction; shasum prediction; shasum -a 256 prediction; shasum -a 512 prediction
MD5 (prediction) = ee641ee9e19656b13ba9396a397eea15
44a27bbefa7d36e728078ad1446d512c5e476bad prediction
c305e8d47722d3b4ec33e2a416aaa48df7fca2e2830308f03082c23bfcd5c25e prediction
79ecde26cf12f82d72b5f6de3cbda4c987db0a1ded6db702783b3819d1a93085e3f8bcf48e15e6a13c1f5f9b7b4457c484672cf89fb59e68a57c3d1b251c990e prediction

Okay, enough of that for now.