This is long and ranty. I haven’t done long and ranty for a while. Take it or leave it.
It was one of those “blinding light” moments – the moment when you finally turn to acknowledge the feeling that’s been kicking around for many months and realise “oh yeah!”
I finally discovered that I really hate Facebook.
It’s not like I’m the first – the most famous incidence being Jason Calcanis’s decision to declare “Facebook Bankruptcy” back in July, an event which trickled by without actively triggering my own epiphany. My realisation was prompted by a conversation with someone who recently heard a talk by a Facebook developer. The salient point, from the horse’s mouth, was that Facebook believe that their application is compellingly relevant to its users “because everyone you add on Facebook is someone you want to hear from.”
Evidently no-one on Facebook staff is being bombarded with the constant “Zombie requests”, Quiz requests, “rate your movies” requests and other effluvia which, post-trumpeted-API-launch, have become a veritable Face-tsunami. Furthermore, no-one at Facebook seems to know anything about psychology, social networks or the interaction between the two.
There are two major problems with the “all your Facebook friends are relevant to you” hypothesis.
Firstly, social networks tend to morph under the weight of human psychology into a Pokemon-like popularity contest – “gotta catch ‘em all” – you add everyone you’ve ever so much as exchanged glances with, and anyone with less than 50 friends looks like a lonely loser.
Secondly, it’s very hard to deny friend requests since it’s obvious that you’ve done so and it’s a pretty blunt snub. Even if you don’t care much about the latest “addee” in your stream, few people want to be seen by their former schoolfriends as an unfriendly snob, and even fewer people want to upset a professional contact who may be a key ally at some point in the future…
…which is why everyone’s contact list balloons over time – for many months I had only 8 contacts on Facebook; by the time of last night’s revelation, that had grown to 125. There are only three possible answers to this -
- Bite the bullet, and reconcile yourself to the idea of coming across as an asshole.
- Add people until your “Feed” looks like a cross between Toys’R'Us and a warzone.
- Get the hell out of Dodge (my current preferred solution).
I care in some way about every single one of the people I added on Facebook, but I don’t want to answer their movie quizzes, become their “zombie victim” or engage in an online “food fight” with them. And here’s the ultimate kicker – for the people I really care about, I have (or should have) far more direct contact with them – phone calls, personal emails, real-life meetings; all of which render the fairly cursory, sterile experience of a Facebook exchange irrelevant. And if anyone else wants to get hold of me, it’s not hard to find me – search engines have a pretty good idea of where I am, for one thing.
We’ve forgotten something in the Great Web 2.0 Social Circlejerk, and that is: you can only really have a small number of true friends, because friendship takes time – meeting, communicating, supporting… there’s nothing lonelier than having 200 “friends”, and realising that you couldn’t really turn to a single one of them if the bottom fell out of your world tomorrow. I’m reminded here of a line from Mary Schmich’s “Wear Sunscreen” (as immortalised in the incredibly cheesy Baz Luhrman track)…
Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you
should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and
lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you
knew when you were young.
Many people will probably disagree at this point, which is just fine, although as the days whizz by I find myself hearing “Facebook is annoying” from more and more people. But here’s the real kicker about Facebook, and the inspiration for the title of this post…
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…
I logged on this morning, resolving to kick Facebook into touch, and looking for a “delete my profile” button. Only there isn’t one. Instead, you can “deactivate” your profile.
I decided to do that, and went through the form which asks about your reason for leaving and then pops up patronising DHTML prompts which attempt to counter that reason. Then I came to the checkbox at the bottom of the form – “Opt out of Facebook emails”. I’ll need to paraphrase here as I no longer have Facebook access, but it was explained along these lines:
Your friends will still be able to tag photos of you, and invite you to groups and events. Check this box if you’d like to opt out of notifications of these events.
Huh. So if I leave Facebook, stuff can still happen on my profile, even though I’m no longer there? That feels… wrong. I completed the deactivation, but was curious… if I reactivated my profile, what would happen?
Reactivating is a case of logging in, and then clicking on a link they email to you.
Click… and “bam!”, there was my profile, complete with all the contacts, groups and “zombie invite” clutter there’d been before. Clearly, truly quitting Facebook takes work. Lots of work.
To opt out of any friend-related activity, it seems that you need to actually delete those friendships. Three clicks per delete – the “delete” link, an “Are you sure?”/”OK” exchange, and another “OK” to dimiss confirmation. 375 mouse-clicks to drop those 125 nodes on my “social graph”… plus more to actually dismiss the zombie crap, leave groups and generally close things down. Just the thought of it gives my brain RSI.
This is, plainly, an unforgivably shitty user experience. I don’t expect any service to insist that once I have an account, I will always have an account – not my bank, not an online retailer, and certainly not something as inessential and inconsequential as a social network.
It also belies a stunning level of insecurity. “Lock-in” is the last refuge of the weak – a tactic used by people convinced that their service is so awful that everyone will up and walk away if they don’t force them to stay. Prisons have locked gates for a reason; Facebook (if they’re as truly confident about the “essential” nature of their service as they say in public) should not.
I’m really interested as to how this plays out in the long run. Facebook has more hype than you can shake a stick at and a strongly-rumored big queue of Big Money at the door. Furthermore, as Google’s stock price tops out and its “Don’t be Evil; have a free gourmet lunch; take 20% for a personal project” culture dissipates under the inevitable strains of growth, Facebook is becoming the Hot New Place for smart developers to pitch tent and get to work.
They may yet do something truly revolutionary, or tweak the model so it actually appeals to grumpy old bastards like me. If I were them, I’d lock the API down a lot more and insist on reviewing apps before they’re allowed onto the site – rather like console manufacturers do with games. Cut the deluge of useless apps, and concentrate on the ones which actually add value.
Facebook, as it is, is just unbearable in a way that even MySpace (for all its unreliability and layout hideousness) just can’t muster. Even though it was a chore to quit it, I feel better already.