Facebook has been booming in the last year. New features, controversies, applications, and millions of new users. However, you can no longer count me in that group of people. Follow along as I detail my reasons for leaving the most popular social network of all time.
Special Note: This is my story from my perspective as a Facebook user. Facebook has over 400 Million other users, and it is filled with marketing and community building opportunities. You shouldn’t base your decision about Facebook solely on my experience.
I signed up for Facebook when I was a college sophomore at Texas A&M in 2004. This was when it was university students only and they were regularly updating the homepage to list the new schools that were available on Facebook. I refer to this period as the “Good Ole’ Days of Facebook”. Call me elitist, but I loved when Facebook was only for college kids. There weren’t as many features back in those days, and friend lists were a manageable number for most, hovering around 200 on average.
The basic features were pretty simple. You could write on someones wall, or send them a message. There was a really cool feature where you could see your extended network (friends of friends). It was a perfect way to connect with kids I knew in other states or at other schools. And at that time, anyone that wasn’t in college couldn’t spy on your wall or photos or anything else you did on Facebook. It was ours and ours alone, and that was the best privacy controls we ever had. Then things started to change.
In 2006, Facebook introduced the News Feed, and it freaked everyone out. You could now see how many times Sally updated her favorite TV Shows, Quotes, etc. in a day. Some of my friends have 50+ updates in a span of 20 minutes, and they were all thoroughly embarrassed to see them listed next to each other on their friends’ news feeds. I personally loved the news feed, as it kept me from having to visit everyones page to “stalk” them. This also marked the first privacy concerns for Facebook, as the controls for what showed up in the news feed were not added until later.
As Facebook became essential for college students, I began to fall out of love with the service. I would get important messages sent through Facebook instead of email and would end up missing out on things. The email forwarding for messages or other invites were not around at that time, and is now fodder for viruses. The photos and tagging came about, which is probably the only useful service from Facebook, and immediately everyone was tagged at their best and worst. “Un-tagging” yourself was now added to the to-do list for finding a job.
I enjoyed keeping up with my friends, but their was and still is large social pressure to “friend” anyone that you have met in person, even if it was for 10 minutes at a party. I, along with most people, had grown my friend list to a point where it was now full of more people I wouldn’t consider close friends than with my real friends. It had become an acquaintance manager, but most of the features like news feed were only really useful for your real friends. I began logging in less and less because the news feed was filled with a bunch of crap I didn’t really care about. Then came applications.
The Application Madness
This was the beginning of the end. When Facebook applications first surfaced in 2007, it seemed like a breakthrough that was moving Facebook into a real platform. What really happened was much different. Thousands of developers created applications that you probably didn’t care about at all. Then, one of your 400 friends who you didn’t really know would try to get you to sign up for them. Mafia Wars, Dinosaur eggs, 50 different birthday calendars. There was no end to this stream of useless and distracting invites. All of this encouraged me to login even less. While you can now block all application invites from a friend, these controls did not exist at the time. The push of features without the necessary controls in the backend was starting to become a horrible trend. Next was the privacy concerns with applications. Developers were making cash hand over fist by offering in game points for your information. Sometimes it was a harmless form that took your email address. Other times it was with a credit card signup that could mar a freshman’s credit if they weren’t careful. And all so you could grow grapes faster on a make-believe farm.
There were little things like Facebook Beacon and Phone numbers in the iPhone app, and the recent additions of connecting with websites automatically that I truly despise. I eventually removed most of my “friends” because I couldn’t remember who they were. I blocked all applications from everyone, and tried my best to block many of the emails, but I wasn’t very successful at that. Then, in the last few months, I just got fed up with the privacy errors that Facebook was making over and over. I decided to weigh the pros and cons of staying on Facebook, and it was clear that it was time for me to leave.
- Being tagged in photos I didn’t take
- Hearing news and updates from people I didn’t keep in touch with very well
- My information was being sold to the highest bidder
- The distractions and noise of applications, news feed, and messages/emails
- The social pressure of “friending” anyone I may have met
- The time-suck that is all of Facebook
If I were a college student, things might be different. For now, I think Facebook gives you a false sense of staying in touch with friends. Reading online that Joe just got engaged because her status changed is far different than a phone call or a real-life hug and high five. I spend quite a bit of time on the internet, and for me, interactions with other people are best done offline. If someone is looking for me, they shouldn’t have much trouble finding me. And if I am looking for someone, I can use Google or ask my girlfriend to look them up on Facebook.
The privacy concerns continue to get bigger and bigger. It’s not that I don’t want people to know who I am. It’s that I want complete control over who sees what, and I don’t want things turned on in the background without my explicit knowledge. Facebook has always tried to fix things, but never before they needed to be fixed.
You have to understand that Facebook sells attention and information. Facebook users, their data, and their attention are the products that Facebook sells to advertisers. I’d prefer not to be sold to when trying to relax. I consider myself a pretty savvy web user, and jumping through all of the Facebook hoops to block things is taxing for me. I can’t image that the average Facebook user monitors or even understands much of this.
Back in my engineering classes we talked about Peak Oil and what it meant for the world. Now, I’ve been thinking much more about Peak Facebook and what it means for the internet and social networks. How much longer are you prepared to remain on Facebook?
I have been very happy with twitter as a service. The relationship (“follower”) is only one-way, meaning I can follow Coco’s updates without receiving a reciprocal follow from him. I also use Tumblr and Google Reader for finding interesting things on the web, Flickr for photographs, YouTube and Vimeo for video, and del.icio.us for social bookmarking.
I maintain my own website on wordpress to host my info and content, and it has a simple contact form (and Google Phone number) for people to get in touch with me. I keep up with my friends through email and the other services mentioned above, and do my best to see them in real life as much as possible. In a long Kevin Kelly article about Amish Hackers, he quotes one Amish-man describing the problem with PDA’s, smartphones, and other devices being that “you got messages rather than conversations.” I have made it a goal of mine to have more conversations and send/receive fewer messages.
I think Facebook sends many messages and offers very few conversations. This is true of many of the services I use, however Facebook is (was) the only one that bills itself as a platform to connect people. Messages (status updates, photos, “likes”, links, notes, etc.) from hundreds of acquaintances cannot replace conversations with people I care about. Facebook doesn’t help me to connect with my friends, and instead feeds me ads, invites, messages, and other things that take time away from my day. I’m choosing a different route than most, and I’m very comfortable doing so.