I received a message from Facebook today: a close family member wondered why I hadn’t acted on her Friend request. The truth is I don’t visit my Facebook account any more.
Superficially Facebook would seem to be ideal for families and friends to stay in contact. You can create a closed profile to which only friends have access. To be registered as somebody’s friend you have to be confirmed by that person.
The privacy model breaks down in ways that have been widely discussed elsewhere. See for instance the article Criticism of Facebook on Wikipedia. But my problems with Facebook go beyond that. Even if I trusted Facebook to respect my confidentiality, it’s an intrusive environment.
As I’m an aquaintance of several very popular Facebook members, every time I logged in the list of suggested friends would be full of people I didn’t know very well, sometimes didn’t know at all, and certainly didn’t want to be Facebook friends with, simply because those people and I shared a common acquaintance, so there was one potentially useful group-building function very broken from the start.
I’d become resigned to this, and used my status line to keep people up to date on what I was doing. That worked okay for a while. Then came the deluge of nonsense in the Facebook history.
I don’t recall exactly when my logins to Facebook started being net wastes of time. It crept on slowly, but one day I noticed that the majority of stuff on the area of the page which was supposed to update me on what my friends and family were doing no longer contained much useful information. Instead it was full of inane and meaningless interactions–people giving one another virtual gifts, challenging one another to play online games and so on, none of which are of any conceivable interest to anyone except the participants and (to be cynical, that is to say, to hit the nail on the head) to whoever Facebook had charged with the task of increasing Facebook traffic.
So here I was using a busted tool. One very valuable method of making links with acquaintances was busted because of an unsophisticated algorithm that fed me useless leads. And the main reason I’d joined up–the promise that I would keep in closer touch with friends and family–was spoiled by the fact that my friends and family were all engaged in artificially generated, noise-making activities that drowned out all information about what they were actually up to.
Around that time I experimented with a Twitter account. The first thing that struck me about it was how lightweight the thing is, in several ways. Firstly it is just a status line–exactly the thing I like about Facebook: an answer to the question “What are you up to?” Secondly the site itself has a light feel because it is relatively unencumbered by bloated scripts and needless graphics. And there are no distracting flash animations.
Twitter accounts can be private but the vast majority are public. Because of the lightness of the site most Twitter users update their status more often than is the case on Facebook, and you don’t have to get permission to see somebody’s status. This makes for a far more open and interactive environment.
So to friends and family who wonder why I don’t respond to their requests, this is the explanation. Facebook doesn’t work for me. If you want to see what I’m up to, look at my Twitter account or send an email.