Facebook Revamps Home Page, Invites Grammatical Anarchy
During this week, Facebook has been rolling out a new home page design to its users, and my turn came yesterday afternoon.
It was a discombobulating experience. Instead of the usual tidy arrangement of stacked, sortable boxes of content, the home page was dominated by a single column listing all the details of people on my friends list, from status updates to uploaded photos to comments on other people's profiles.
The new design certainly does that, at the cost of making it harder to catch up on things you missed earlier in the day. The oldest item on my home page was posted only two hours ago.
But the part that may distress me the most--as a Facebook user and as a student of the written word--is the change to Facebook's status updates. The new home page abandons all of the traditional grammar and structure of these messages.
Facebook used to be strict about them, requiring each one to start with your name and the verb "is": "Rob is on Facebook instead of doing work." The to-be verb requirement bugged me and many others, leading to the inevitable Facebook protest group.
Then Facebook relented. Although it filled in "is" as the first word of an update after your name, you could delete that and replace it with anything else: "Rob should be doing work but is on Facebook instead." But it still seemed obvious that you had to write a sentence--or at least a headline, such as one colleague's summary of his home-improvement efforts as "Frank Ahrens 1, Drywall 0."
Also unchanged: the need to refer to oneself in the third person if one wanted to abide by the rules of English grammar. Example: "Rob should be doing work but is on Facebook instead; he's suuure he'll finish his column this evening."
Lately, however, Facebook has seen a different status-update hub, Twitter, rapidly grow in popularity. That site's updates have never carried any assumption of grammatical correctness. Their strict 140-character limit makes it difficult to write a complete sentence, and many Twitter users also dispense with complete words in favor of the condensed argot of instant messaging.
Now Facebook has apparently elected to copy Twitter's unstructured updates. The new updates box, titled "What's on your mind," doesn't offer any suggestion of what to write or how to phrase it.
I shot off an e-mail to Facebook's public-relations department with this somewhat facetious inquiry: "Are we no longer supposed to start status updates with a verb?" A few minutes later, spokeswoman Jaime Schopflin called back. "No," she said, "You don't have to anymore; you can write whatever you want."
I'm not so sure I will. I've been writing Facebook updates as sentences for a long time, and it seems right to stick with that tradition. I also see that many of my friends have continued to write name-verb-object updates.
But we all could be wrong (I should note that I'm not exactly unaccustomed to the looser style of Twitter updates myself). So I'll throw this one out to you all: What's the proper form for a Facebook status update these days? Vote in the poll below, then explain your stance in the comments.
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