Facebook have recently got a lot of flak for changes to their default privacy settings, terms of service and strategic partnerships. People (and applications) are moving away from the social networking platform and the list of reasons to do so is quite compelling:
- Ten reasons
- A security leak
- Another security leak
- Their blatant landgrab for the semantic web has annoyed me and others
- Third parties adding apps to your Facebook page
I signed up for a developer account, read the Terms Of Service and played around with the API. I’ve also experimented with advertising on Facebook and after a while it becomes obvious that Facebook’s business model is to rent your data out to those willing to invest time (in developing free applications) or simple cash.
However, I will continue with Facebook and here’s why - my Facebook friends.
Friends: Not Fans, Not Followers, Not Community
The vast majority of my Facebook friends are people that I have met in real life, that I have worked with, been to school with or had a beer with and I want to interact with the way non-geeks do.
The geek in me prefers to share photos via Flickr; cool sites via delicious; status updates on twitter; longer messages via email; music via Last.fm and use a host of other specialised services that blow Facebook applications out of the water.
I’m no big fan of Facebook but my friends are on there and that is why I’ll stay.
Facebook is the lowest common denominator of online sharing and that suits a lot of people - people who struggle to keep their email contacts up to date, or don’t understand upload quotas, or cannot install browser plugins. For those people Facebook just works - we developers must remember that.
I Will Be Keeping An Eye On My Privacy
Whilst all of the information in my Facebook profile is available on other websites, I will keep an active eye on my privacy settings and recommending that everyone disable instant personalisation (howto guide here).
I also block a lot of Facebook applications - I just don’t trust them to follow the terms of service even after Facebook has weakened its data-retention rules. I recommend that others do the same, but I also recognise that many are willing to trade privacy for Bejewelled Blitz, Farmville or Mafia Wars.
Facebook Will Die One Day
Just not today.
Communities are fickle, and Facebook is a behemoth with a lot of traction in the lives of ordiniary people, just like Yahoo was and AOL before it. What is needed to make people move is an alternative that is very obviously better in the eyes of the average user (not just the techies currently pushing towards an open, decentralised replacement).
Remember when Google replaced Alta Vista as the most popular search engine? Heh, maybe not; that was a long time ago in internet-years, but I do. All the geeks shouted about how a new search engine’s results weren’t influenced by advertising, how you couldn’t buy placement, the purity of the algorithm, etc.
When Joe Schmoe visited google.com for the first time, he saw a text box and two buttons - and that was better than the busy portals offered by its rivals. Then he tried it out, and the results were good - better than competing search engines - and so Joe had a new favourite search engine. The algorithm didn’t matter; the revenue model didn’t matter; the user experience did matter.
So, developers should not just make an open Facebook, they must make a better social networking site. One that is obviously much better from the first glance and stays better the more you use it.
Facebook are reacting to user concerns too, but it remains to be seen whether this is just PR, or if there will be a root-and-branch change in the company’s practices. I suspect not, they make money by offering access to your info to advertisers and developers so a new revenue model would be needed.
Are You Deleting Your Facebook Account?
See this screenshot for what to expect (it’s quite sneaky).
Leave a comment and tell me which (if any) other social networks you’ll be using in future, or if you will stay on Facebook, tell me why.
Creative Commons licensed photo by Franco Bouly.