I have a love hate relationship with Facebook. On the one hand, it’s powerful, easy-to-use and impressively far-reaching. I go there and, wham! Updates from friends, new photos, links and stories to follow, and new friends to discover. With more than 500 million active users, there is an undeniable ubiquitousness to Facebook. Its reach leaves you breathless and its network effects are compelling. I hate to whine, but Facebook really doesn’t work for me. And here’s why.
What makes for a Friend. The concept of friending on Facebook (and other social media sites) feels like a sledgehammer to me. You are either a friend for life or you slap them in the face and “unfriend them”. The average Facebook user has 130 friends. I like to think that I have a more nuanced view of friendship than that. My current Facebook “friends” are such a rag-tag group – from someone I met once at a professional dinner two years ago, to a long-ago acquaintance from high school that I haven’t spoken with in 20 years, to my dear friend in Bethesda who I talk with nearly everyday, to a relative that I barely know. In a social networking site that reflects the way I live my life, there should be a range of ways to keep and filter my online friends or unfriend them without it being such an insult. No nuance here – Facebook friendships are static, come only in one size, and they never expire.
Too Crowded. The news I get on my newsfeed is dominated by the people who post the most. While that’s an obvious truth, it’s not necessarily the news and information I really want to read every single day. Take today for instance, I scrolled endlessly on my Wall to find something that I cared about – I scrolled past endless trivia (meals eaten, places visited) from the lives of some, long complex posts in Spanish (and I don’t speak Spanish) from a hard-working professional acquaintance, details from the pending wedding of a friend’s daughter, and every single shot you can imagine of another friend’s newborn baby. There are too many tangentially related people in my network to make it useful or interesting to me.
If you go back to Facebook’s roots (as portrayed in the movie The Social Network, which I just saw last weekend – and loved – but it is the very thing that inspired this post), “The Facebook” was built as an effective and fun way for college students to keep track of each other, flirt with each other, and date each other. The college students that made Facebook go viral were all people in the same boat, at the same age, in the same stage of life. And I think this is why Facebook is not for me – I am no longer in college, my friends and connections have exploded beyond the a small, tightly knit, like-minded community. I interact with a range of groups – I don’t want to hear the same level of update from them and I don’t want to say the same things to all of them. Similarly, there is no provision for separating my personal and my work life – all of those people are thrown in there like some sort of perverse stone soup.
On the other hand, this is precisely what makes Facebook a perfect vehicle for my two teenaged sons. The way they use it is, in fact, precisely the way it was intended to be used.
What’s mine. Facebook and other social networks (Twtipic on Twitter, for instance) are of the opinion that sharing and ownership are mutually exclusive terms. We have to think carefully about permissions and ownership when posting to a social networking site. I’ve stopped uploading photos to Facebook and Twitter. And you can never really delete your Facebook account – call me squirrely, but I really don’t like that.
Obtuse Permissions. Facebook is intentionally designed so that ideas, products, images, and videoclips can go viral very quickly. That is its heartbeat. But that heartbeat is also extremely intrusive. If you want to change Facebook’s right to follow your clicks, invade your connections, or mine your data you really have to dig into the permissions preferences – you really have to know what you’re doing.
So, that’s it. My rant. Works for many – but not for me.