Photo by Joanna.I terminated my Facebook account yesterday. I had that account for almost exactly five years.
I liked some things about Facebook. Some of them I liked quite a lot. Others only a little.
Finding people.Ultimately, the things I didn't like started to pile up. Some of them were niggling little annoyances. Others were big philosophical differences.
Looking at other people's links and pictures.
Knowing classmates still exist, and a bit what they're up to.
Asking to be "friended" by people I didn't really know.Most of my dislikes of Facebook spring from two root causes. I fundamentally disagree with Mark Zuckerberg's view of identity, and I deeply distrust his intentions.
Refusing to be "friended" by people I didn't really know.
The social cost of un-friending someone.
The social cost of refusing "friend" requests.
Apps that try to trick you into giving them rights, then vacuuming your profile and doing something nasty with it, like putting it up on a dating site.
Invitations that felt just wrong and awkward.
The social cost of refusing invitations.
Being asked questions and nagged about not answering them.
How they make it so easy to sign off your privacy, and hide the ways to get it back.
How they sign off your privacy without telling you, so you have to know what buttons to click to get it back.
Frequent, pointless changes in user interface behavior.
Lack of trust in Facebook's intentions.
Facebook's view of identity.
Zuckerberg thinks that identity is an indivisible, unitary, and essential whole. Every individual can and should have only one, and present that same identity in every context and every situation. He believes that someone who does not subscribe to this view is not merely wrong, but morally deficient: that an individual who wishes to have multiple identities is dishonest, duplicitious; fundamentally a liar.
Without even getting into the Buddhist-y stuff about the self and identity, I just don't see how it could work this way. I do not present the same aspects of my identity to my wife as to my colleagues; to my parents as to my sisters; to my role-playing game friends as to my Zen friends; to my old friends as to my Net acquaintances. Some of these aspects have very little to do with each other, beyond the fact that I'm involved in all of them. Mixing these aspects causes confusion. Keeping them distinct is clear and honest.
Facebook's default mode is that of the broadcast. It is possible to target messages, but these possibilities aren't built into it. I tried, for a bit, but managing these tools was laborious and error-prone, and it was always easier to share something with everybody than with only some people. What's more, there's a relentless push to simultaneously expand your network of friends, and to share ever more with all of them -- photos, locations, thoughts, ever more personally identifying information.
I don't want to share everything with everyone. That means that I have to be constantly on alert about what I say and how I say it, because everyone is watching. That precludes any real trust, real intimacy, real communication beyond the inoffensive, bland, and superficial. And even so, a tremendous amount of information gets transmitted. In aggregate, the little bits add up to much more than the sum of their parts.
And all of it goes into Facebook's bowels. Facebook knows not only who my friends are, but which ones I most interact with, which profiles I visit, who visits my profile, who searches for me, who I search for. Which brings up the second big issue. Trust.
Giving up Facebook is no big hardship. I never was all that deeply involved in it, emotionally or concretely. Quitting wasn't even any big political statement (although these political and philosophical aspects certainly are a factor); it's more that the inconvenience of keeping it under control started outweigh the stuff I got out of it.
But if Google turns evil, I'm in real trouble.
Google reads my mail.The difference is that I trust Google more than I trust Facebook. Google's not perfect, that's for sure. Those anti-trust probes aren't just a matter of evil government trying to bring the good guys down.
Google keeps my appointments.
Google knows the phone numbers of all of my contacts.
Google knows my search history.
Google reads my blog.
Google knows what blogs I read.
Google knows which news I follow.
Google stores my documents.
But it does seem to me that Google is more trustworthy than Facebook. The vibe I get from Google is something like "What else can we think of that people would like to use?" with "And how can we make it pay?" coming second. Their bloopers have seemed more like honest mistakes than relentless, creeping evil. The vibe I get from Facebook is "How can we get people to sign off more of their information so we can squeeze more cash out of those who want to pay for it?"
Put another way, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find that Facebook sold everything it knows to spammers, the Camorra, the Chinese government, and the FBI (through back channels, natch), but I would be if it turned out Google did the same.
Could be I'm tragically mistaken about this, of course. That's really too bad as for now I don't have a plan B.
A couple of years back, some people who were even less happy with Facebook than I am kicked off a project called Diaspora. I tried it out as soon as there was a public alpha. I liked their approach.
You can get the source code.When I first tried it, it was in disastrous shape. I could only sign up and send invitations. I couldn't even "share" with another user in the same node (or "pod") whose address I knew. Plus the user interface barely did anything to start with.
You can set up a node of your own.
You present aspects of yourself, not a unitary identity.
You can create clients to connect it up to other things.
I looked at it again yesterday, and while it's early days yet, it has come a long way. I was able to set up a number of aspects, find a number of people on the network and connect them to these aspects. Someone else there found me. I fired off an "Is this thing on?" and got an answer. There are help texts. There's a profile where I can actually put stuff. I'll try to put a photo there later today.
Put another way, I can do stuff with it. More to the point, I can manage my degrees of intimacy there.
Therefore, I'm issuing an open invitation to anyone reading this blog: find me on Diaspora and share with me in some aspect, and I'll share back in some aspect. I'm email@example.com (that's not an email address, it's my handle and the pod I'm on). I'll only refuse spammers and bots.
Social networking is a great idea. There's just got to be a better way to do it than Facebook. Maybe Diaspora is it. If it is, most of all it needs us -- people joining it. You can sign up on the diasp.org pod here.
If you don't care to join Diaspora and still want to keep track of me, you can also find me on Twitter as PrimeJunta. Or here, natch.