Facing Up to Facebook

Four months ago, I deleted my Facebook account. Yesterday, I went back to Facebook.

My issues with Facebook haven’t changed. But I have to admit, there are friends and family I have limited contact with outside of Facebook, and I don’t want to lose touch with them. So I went back, but this time with a more focused perspective on the site.

I won’t be friends with just anyone. I have no intention of using Facebook for professional networking, so if you and I both happen to work in libraries, there’s no point in friending me unless we’re already friends in real life and have something besides libraries to talk about. If that’s not the case, we’re not friends, we’re just two people who share a profession. If we work together but don’t socialize outside of work, I’m not going to friend you. We’re coworkers, not friends. I don’t need to know what’s going on in your life, and you don’t need to know what’s going on in mine. If we’re already friends in real life and see each other in person fairly often or interact on other social networking sites, there’s a good chance I won’t friend you (unless I really like you a lot).

I don’t plan on posting a lot to Facebook or uploading much content. I don’t want to use Facebook as a one-stop-shop for all things Josh. It’s simply a tool for me to keep in touch with friends and family I care about.

Leaving Facebook was good for me. Now I have a better idea of what I want to do with the site. And what I don’t want to do with the site.

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You Can’t Just Walk Away

Gareth-Michael Skarka tweeted this morning:

Deleting Facebook accounts over privacy concerns is the new slacktivist hotness. If you’re concerned about less-savvy users — TEACH THEM.

And he’s absolutely right.

Colleen Harris blogged last week:

It’s not the nerds, social networking experts, librarians, Alex Scobles or other techgeeks Facebooks awful privacy settings take advantage of, though we’re teh ones bitching to high heaven for or against them.

It’s the casual user. It’s your mother, your Aunt Louise, and your next door neighbor. Perhaps it’s you.

And she’s absolutely right.

As a librarian, part of my job is to teach patrons and staff about new technology. As something of a tech geek, I do this in my off-work time, too. I’m always more than happy to teach friends, family, coworkers and complete strangers about the web and social sites, as well as issues surrounding privacy, copyright and general computer use. Walking away from Facebook isn’t just a personal thing, it’s a teaching moment, an opportunity to educate others on privacy and the social web.

If you’re thinking of deleting your Facebook account, or you’re just generally concerned about privacy on the web, or you simply have knowledge about computers and the internet, you need to share with others. Teach people how to protect themselves and to better use this new technology. It ain’t going away any time soon.

Facing Down Facebook

I just deleted my Facebook account. Why?

In part it’s because of my concerns over Facebook’s frequent changing of the goalposts when it comes to privacy. But even more, it’s Facebook’s growth as an all-purpose internet site. To my mind, Facebook is trying to be AOL 2.0–a site that provides you with email, IM, image hosting, blogging, games, etc. I don’t want the internet centralized. I don’t want a one-stop-shop for all things internet. I don’t want One Site to Rule Them All. And I really don’t want the internet simplifed and dumbed down for people. I want people to smart-up for the internet. I want people to learn to use email and instant messaging through the numerous apps and tools available. I want people to learn to use a blogging platform. I want people to learn to use RSS. None of these things are really all that difficult, and outside of Facebook, you can control your privacy a lot more.

If you want to follow my exploits and read my rambling thoughts, read this blog and follow me on Twitter or FriendFeed. If you want to see my photos, check me out on Flickr. If you want to talk to me, email or IM me. But don’t look for me on Facebook, because I won’t be there anymore.

Harshing My Buzz

Just now, I tweeted: “Dear Google: Opt-in social networks are good. Opt-out social networks are bad. Please remember this.” I was speaking in regards to Google Buzz, the company’s latest social networking release. Buzz is a social aggregator, like FriendFeed, pulling your content from different sites into one stream, where your friends can comment on your content, as well as pulling your friends’ content into the same stream.

I was excited about Buzz and gave it a try as soon as Google bestowed it upon me. It didn’t take long for me to grow frustrated and annoyed with it, though, and I gave up on it after less than a day’s use. Reflecting on it more, I’ve come to see Buzz as a massive screw-up in terms of social networking. Because Buzz is opt-out social networking, not opt-in.

If you sign up for MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed or a host of other social websites, you have to seek out friends. You can sometimes use your email contact list to find other people on those sites, or you have to find people one by one to friend. You also have to go to that site (or a desktop or mobile phone app) for access (and socializing).

Buzz, on the other hand, sits right there in your Gmail. By default, you get any and all updates to Buzz both in your Buzz inbox and in your Gmail inbox. (You can filter the emails out of your Gmail, but it’s not something you can really turn off.) Your Gmail contacts are automatically your Buzz contacts. Following contacts in Buzz automatically adds them to the people you follow in Google Reader (which increased my unread posts in Reader A LOT), even if you disconnect Reader from Buzz (and Reader is pulled into your Buzz stream by default, unless you choose to disconnect it). When you post straight to Buzz, you can choose to make a post private rather than public, but unless you disconnect everything from Buzz, your stream will continue to flow, allowing your friends to see posts and comment on them, even if you turn Buzz off (which you can only do by clicking on a tiny link at the bottom of your Gmail page).

In short, Google Buzz is opt-out social networking, not opt-in. If you don’t want to participate, you have to go through steps to turn it off, rather than going through steps to turn it on if you want to participate. Google has deployed Buzz to everyone with Gmail, causing a number of my friends to wonder what the hell it was and how to turn it off.

Opt-out social networking is a moronic and intrusive idea. Just because you use email doesn’t mean you want more social networking. Just because you emailed someone once or twice doesn’t mean you want to see everything they post to the internet (and it doesn’t mean you want them seeing everything you post to the internet). You might like fish and you might like salty food, but that doesn’t mean people should assume you want anchovies on your pizza, and you definitely shouldn’t have to ask to have to anchovies removed if you don’t want them.

Google Wave and Buzz are making me think Google Labs is some socially-isolated workshop where no usability studies are being done. It’s stunningly bad design. I’m going to be very wary of whatever Google releases next.

Making Waves

Most of the time, I think my optimism and enthusiasm is justified, because life regularly turns out to be at least as amazing as I expect and imagine it will be. But sometimes…not so much.

I was really, really excited about Google Wave when I first learned about it. I snagged an invite to start playing with it as soon as I could. And after two months of experimenting with Google Wave, I have to say…meh.

I’ve tried using it for conversation, but it doesn’t facilitate conversation any better than email, IM, Twitter or FriendFeed. I’ve tried using it for collaboration, but it doesn’t do that better than Google Docs. I appreciate that it’s in beta, and I’m prepared to believe that in a year or two or three, Google Wave will be where it’s at. But right now, it’s a lot like Second Life to me: flashy and interesting, but ultimately kind of boring and of little real use to me.

Wave of the Future

As much as I inherently cast a suspicious eye towards large companies, I have to say, Google regularly knocks my socks off. I’ve just learned more about their huge new project, Google Wave, and not only are my socks knocked off, my jaw is on the floor and my eyes are popping out of my skull. Google Wave is “email, if it were created today”–but it’s much more than that. It’s a groovy orgy of email, IM, wikis, collaborative documents (like Google Docs) and more. My gut instinct is to agree with Jason Griffey when he says “it’s the biggest revolution in communication online since the invention of email.” I think the implications and possibilities of this technology are astounding. But what makes it even more amazing in potential is that Google is making Wave open source and encouraging developers to create extensions and robots, but also to make of the platform and the protocol what they will. Seriously, this could he huge.

To get a better sense of how Google Wave will work and what the potential is, watch the video of the developer preview from Google I/O 2009. (Warning: the video is over an hour long and not always incredibly exciting. I watched it in chunks over 3 days.)

For a different perspective on Google Wave, check out “Five Reasons to Be Terrified of Google Wave.” Personally, I think the worrying sounds a bit shrill, but it’s good to look at all sides of the matter.

Thanks

This has not been the best year of my life, which is particularly bad as I was saying the same thing last year. It hasn’t been all sewage and shadows–I’ve had some really good times this year. But it feels like the bad has exceeded the good, in effect if not in actual instance. There’s been a whole lotta feh this year, is what I’m saying.

So I’ll gladly take this day to give thanks to all the good, to polish the sunlight and kick depression in the kneecaps.

I’m thankful that Julie and I found each other and continue to discover good things about each other. I’m thankful I get to be Morgan’s father and have her in my life. I’m thankful my parents (in-blood and in-law) are doing relatively well. I’m thankful my siblings (sister, brother and sister-in-law) and their beautiful children are doing well.

I’m also thankful this is the last Thanksgiving I’ll ever have with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their whole cabal in the White House. I will sing and dance when the Worst President Ever leaves Washington. These are bad, bad people, and I want them out of my life.

As my friend Steve Lawson says, I’m thankful for the internet and the World Wide Web. (I’ll throw in cell phones and other information-communication devices, too.) I’m not sure I would have made it through this year without the friendship of the amazing people I’ve met and grown to love online. I’ve also reconnected with old friends because of the internet. This is really a fantastic time to be alive, and I’m thankful that I am alive to live through this and enjoy it. To all of my friends, near and far: thank you.