Saturday, June 26, 2010

Facebook is a content abyss

Summary: This is basically an endorsement of FriendFeed and Google Buzz, and an unusual condemnation of Facebook: I'm more bothered by its stinginess with my media than I am by its promiscuity with my data. If you don't want to bother with my griping: 1. Go to FriendFeed and sign up and befriend me, AlexSzatmary. If you already have a Facebook, Google, or Twitter account, it will take you literally two mouse clicks. 2. If you have Gmail, you already have Buzz. Auto-import your blog, Flickr albums, Twitter. Think about what in your feed you want to share publicly. It's super easy to set up. 3. Give friends links to public feeds of your FriendFeed or Buzz. Put it in your email signature. Put it on your Facebook profile. 4. If you feel like it, go to my Buzz feed and subscribe by RSS, or follow me in Gmail. Or you can go to my website, and subscribe by RSS to whatever you please. 5. Use RSS to keep up with things people make. You'll need an RSS reader for this; I like Google Reader, but there are other good options.

Granted, Facebook has done a terrible job with everyone's personal data:

  • Their Privacy Policy is longer than the Constitution
  • The maze of menus one needs to maintain their privacy settings would befuddle as gifted a reckoner of hierarchically sorted information as a medieval scholastic.
  • One needs to navigate a maze of menus to maintain their privacy settings because Facebook changes all of its rules a couple of times a year.
  • Facebook gives away data about you to strangers without your permission.

These are all bad, but, really, I'm not bothered. I have 306 Facebook friends, and I'm strange in that I periodically de-friend any people that I don't have an actual relationship with of some sort; I might have far fewer "friends" than a lot of my friends. Sharing things with 306 friends isn't private.

I'm griping because Facebook is a content abyss. Most of the really cool stuff that I see pop up on my feed came from somewhere else, it's a link to a news site or it's a picture someone took or a YouTube video. The only new content that I'm seeing generated on Facebook is notes, which are really blog posts that are locked into Facebook. Facebook isn't where I make stuff, I write stuff on my blogs (see my web site), I put my pictures on Picasa, I put my videos on YouTube, I toot on Twitter, and I post my bookmarks on Delicious. I don't need Facebook as a publisher. Facebook is a hole that I throw things into.

I went to, logged-out, to see what a stranger would see. I have all of my privacy protection settings cranked low, I only guard my contact information. When a stranger looks at my facebook page, they see this: Alex Szatmary | Facebook

All that a stranger can make of this is:

  • Alex has sat on a stone bench and made funny faces
  • Alex has some Facebook friends
  • Alex likes Napoleon Dynamite, Carl Sagan, and soup

What I find most offensive about Facebook is that it won't share any of my content with strangers unless they get a Facebook account. The evil thing, as far as I'm concerned, with Facebook, isn't that it's promiscuous with my personal information, but that it's stingy with my media that I made that I want to share with 306 people plus my mom who isn't on Facebook. Facebook gets more money out of locking people into using Facebook than it does by doing skeezy things with your Likes or 25 Things. My mom doesn't have a Facebook account, so sharing anything, not just pictures, with my mom by way of Facebook is irritating or impossible.

Facebook got to be really cool when it acquired FriendFeed, that's when everything got comment-on-able. People discussed clever links, we joked over old pictures, and walls became places where people could chat. This is the reason why I have a Facebook tab always open: Facebook is good at making conversations.

FriendFeed still exists on its own. I set up my own feed, where it's easy for anyone to see what I've been up to lately and have a chat about it. I figure that almost anything that I can share with 306 people, I want to be able to share easily with the whole world. FriendFeed lets me do that. It also has privacy settings:

Alex Szatmary - FriendFeed Here's what my public FriendFeed looks like:

Alex Szatmary - FriendFeed
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

FriendFeed doesn't do much on its own, it just grabs things that I make and puts them in one big pipe. It publishes the stuff I make, link to, like, whatever, and lets people see it. If you want to comment on something on FriendFeed, you need to log in, but it's free to look. You can also follow people individually on FriendFeed.

Buzz also doesn't make you join to see my stuff. A stranger coming across my profile sees this:

Alex Szatmary - Google Profile
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

A stranger looking at my Google profile can see some pictures I took, links to my websites, and my Buzz feed. Facebook makes people join first, then gives them content; FriendFeed and Buzz both let their users open their profiles as much as they like.

To put stuff on the Internet, I use

They each do a better job of the one thing they do than Facebook does. They each have privacy settings, and they're typically sensible and easy to use. I can quit any one of them at any time and switch to a different service easily. I'm thinking about using Vimeo for the occasional video that I make.

We allow Facebook to be a bully because it has high barriers to exit. Once you put stuff into Facebook, pictures, notes, video, whatever, it's not easy to export it again. Delicious, Picasa, and Blogger have built-in tools that make it easy to export all of your stuff from them. Also, for people to see the stuff I make on Facebook, they have to have Facebook accounts, too.

Facebook is closed in two important ways: 1. If I decide one day that I don't like, say, Delicious, I can check out, pick a new social bookmarking site, and import my old bookmarks; it might not be seamless, but it's something. You can't do anything like that with Facebook. If I quit Facebook, all of the information I've put into it is gone forever. 2. If all of my friends use Friendfeed or Tumblr or Twitter or whatever, and I don't, I can still see their pages or subscribe to their RSS feeds without signing up for an account. It's expensive to quit Facebook, so we let Facebook behave poorly. We can make it cheaper to quit Facebook by diversifying how we put content on the Internet. It's good etiquette to not make your friends use a service just because you do.

No comments:

Post a Comment