“You should be on Facebook”

As I’m preparing to leave Switzerland, a lot of my friends have tried to pressure me to join Facebook so they can keep in touch. This isn’t going to happen due to privacy concerns I’ve mentioned many times before. I’d additionally like to counter a couple arguments people keep making in Facebook’s favour.

The most commonly voiced conviction is that “Facebook is so convenient,” or in the case of certain overly excitable individuals, “Facebook is soooooooooo convenient.”

I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but if Facebook were truly convenient, they would provide tools to send me a message or invite me to your events even though I don’t have an account with them. One obvious way to do this would be to integrate the Facebook messaging system with e-mail. Then you’d be able to communicate with me and anybody in the world who has an e-mail address. Facebook may connect over 800 million users (depending how many of those accounts are actually bots trying to harvest your data), but e-mail is able to connect around 2 billion people, and I am one of the 1.2 billion that are not on Facebook.

Of course, Facebook could be even more convenient if they allowed you to keep in touch with your Grandma who doesn’t know how to use a computer. Perhaps they should also support an option for mailing a letter via conventional post.

There is also no reason Facebook shouldn’t allow you to invite me to events by sending e-mails to people who do not use their service. It’s not hard to implement a non-member RSVP service; I’ve done so myself for two different client projects. The fact is, Facebook is deliberately restricting these conveniences for their own benefit.

The second argument I often here is that if I join Facebook I’ll “get to” keep up with all my friend’s lives. It is always worded as though I am missing out on some sort of privilege or basic right.

This is a bit more personal than the convenience argument. The truth is, since the adoption of the Internet, it has become trivial for absolutely anybody to author absolutely anything. Written information is a basic commodity. This puts the power in the reader’s hands, instead of the author’s.

In short, the reader has the privilege of choosing what they will read, and whose written information they will consume. The author is not granting privileges to the reader (despite the “all rights reserved” designation we still see on formally published articles).

Most people are not very good authors, and I’m sorry to say, most of the information disseminated via Facebook (that is not also available elsewhere) is simply not of interest to me.

I’m not saying my friends aren’t interesting, nothing could be further from the truth! But I prefer personalized messages in which we discuss things that are of mutual interest. I acknowledge that most of the stuff in my life is not of interest to any one of my friends. However, for those topics, facts, or events that I know you are interested in, I am happy to spend the time crafting a message meant for your eyes only in which I discuss those things I know you will care about. I won’t discuss Canadian politics if you live in Europe. I won’t discuss complex technical topics unless you’re as fascinated by them as I am. I won’t send you links to my sketches unless you’re interested in art. I would appreciate the same care from you; please don’t send me stupid cat photos, I’m not interested. I don’t care about celebrity or even local gossip. I’m not interested in the latest viral Internet meme.

Google has made an effort to address both these concerns with Google Plus. They have integrated Plus with Gmail, Google Talk, and SMS services so you can still keep in touch with me even though I have deleted my Google Plus profile. The whole Circles architecture is designed to address the second issue, although in my opinion it has failed to do so.

In summary, as I covered in my last post, Facebook does not provide such “convenient” services that they are worth the extremely high value of the data they wish to take from me in payment. If you choose to restrict your personal interactions only to the portion of the population who is active on Facebook, that is your prerogative. In turn, I will choose to keep in touch with those people who are willing to use services that I find more convenient.

3 Comments

  1. I agree that this is an issue to consider, though Facebook now lets you send messages to external e-mails, and if the user has activated his email account on facebook (accountname@facebook.com), you can receive emails from people outside of Facebook as messages.

  2. Why did you delete your Google+ account? It sounds like you are not just against Facebook policies, but Facebook as a concept; social networks.

  3. hexadecagram says:

    Nice article. You’re not alone.

    I held off on getting a Facebook account for quite a while (3 years if memory serves). I decided to give it a chance, and deleted it after about 6 months. It was fun reconnecting with some old friends, but not without its share of disappointments and really bad parties.

    The “convenience” aspect always rings of “user friendly” or some other buzzword to me. The person referring to said convenience seems to me to be saying, “I’ve been sold on an incomplete definition of convenience and haven’t given it a lot of thought.”

    I tend to regard Facebook as just a tremendous waste of time. Your second point touches on this. I liken it to being on Earth’s largest FWD: list.

    If indeed it is your opinion that social networking as a whole is just a really bad (albeit perhaps lucrative) idea for yourself, for privacy, for open standards, and for the Internet (and perhaps society) at large, I’d have to say that I agree with you.

    Making an effort to support standard-based email is reassuring. There’s also this: http://developers.facebook.com/opensource/ . I only hope they’re serious.

    FWIW, I think LinkedIn has some promise, but I personally don’t care much for dealing with headhunters, and I state this specifically (and very carefully) in my very minimalistic profile there. So far, they’ve been mostly respectful of it.