It’s far from an original form of protest, but I’m very excited to detach myself from Facebook.
I’m doing it today. The happy day that Facebook hosts their IPO. The day there are a whole lot of new millionaires and billionaires being minted. The day institutional and retail investors alike giddily overpay for a piece of a business most of them don’t really understand. The day that Facebook now has the fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder value. And their only means for doing that is by gathering, parsing and selling (again and again) information about me, my friends and my interests. Unlike.
Did you watch Mark Zuckerberg talk about their product strategy in the investor roadshow video? His express vision is that every social interaction on the web run on the Facebook platform. Chris Cox, VP of Product, chipped in saying they’re “changing the fabric of how humanity communicates with itself.” That’s creepy and brings to mind the old adage "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." For the love of Pete, one profit-seeking company shouldn’t dictate or own how we communicate. It’s antithetical to the purpose and promise of the Internet.
I DON’T WANT TO BE EXPLOITED
Facebook’s product is me. Their only asset for making money is my data. I don’t want to be part of their product or, unwittingly, their engine for profits. Of course, they’re not the only ones relying on data. In fact, the state of privacy policies is pretty bad across the board (you can get a PDF of TRUSTe’s Privacy Index for 2011, to see what I mean). Some, like Mozilla, Yahoo! and Twitter are taking the high road.
I heard Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer the other day giving examples of how they use personal information to offer more targeted advertisers. She said that if you post a status that you’re about to go for a run then Facebook could present you with an advertisement for running shoes. Oh man, that’s so helpful because I can’t think of a single place I might look for new running shoes. Thanks for looking out for me, invasive Facebook and invasive advertiser who loves to bite my data.
I’ve heard before that more targeted advertising is better for consumers, which I think is a nice-sounding veneer atop what’s actually motivating targeted ads. Profit-seeking companies are actively working to get themselves access to more data in more places, investing tons in technologies to mine that data for commercial application, and are doing so primarily for their financial benefit which is directly tied to the price per advertising unit (or price per bit of data about me that they find useful). So, they say they’re making my experience better by collecting, parsing, selling my data to shoe companies, but that’s not what’s really happening. If Facebook cared first about making my experience awesome then they’d not be cramming already-cluttered page with more ads that I’ll do my best to avoid seeing.
If there’s a deal to be done between a service provider like Facebook, an advertiser and me (by way of my data that Facebook is harvesting and exploiting), then I want to be party to the terms of that deal. The clunky, cluttered, drivel-laden experience that Facebook is offering me for my data is not a good enough deal for me so I’m walking away.
THE OFT-LAUDED CONVENIENCE OF FACEBOOK IS OVERRATED
I used to think that Facebook’s advantage was its convenience. For advertisers and marketers, it’s super convenient to reach a mass audience and have your message amplified, tracked and monetized. For friends, it’s super convenient to share news of a party or a new haircut or a major life event. For activists, it’s super convenient to galvanize a community around your cause and spur them to action. For introverts, it’s super convenient to be social.You get the idea.
I liken that convenience to having an auditorium full of people all just chillin’ and waiting for someone to talk at them. Anytime you want to say something, you just pop in, belt it and voila the message is heard and amplified. Well, as you can imagine with that convenience comes a lot more people wanting to share a lot more messages and then more and then more. When a bunch of people are yelling at a bunch of other people, it’s kind of hard to hear any message. That’s exactly what’s happening. What you post is now only reaching about 16% of your friends. The same is holding true for advertisers. GM made a big stink this week when announcing it’d no longer buy ads on Facebook because it deemed to have little to no impact on consumers.
Convenience, it seems, is not all it’s cracked up to be. Processed food is convenient (and half of Americans will be obese by 2030). Wal-Mart is convenient (and providing that convenience apparently isn’t cheap or legal). Driving instead of biking is convenient (but that whole global warming thing is gonna be mighty inconvenient). I don’t think I place a premium on convenience.
I DON’T REALLY LIKE USING THE PRODUCT THEY’VE BUILT AROUND ME
Staring at Facebook is slightly less enjoyable than staring at a TV. They both promise the same mindless entertainment. You just sit and tell them both what or who you’re into and they pump information, “news”, entertainment, stories of cats doing funny things, and loads of advertisements into your eyeholes.
I unfriended TV a long time ago because I felt like it was a something I was investing time into and not getting much return (e.g., enjoyment, edification) on that time. TV is a product that provides endless news, infotainment, “reality” with such a variety that there is bound to be something personally relevant. The product experience (remotes, cable boxes, etc.) is clumsy, there’s more bad content than good, and there are way too many irritating ads. The product isn’t good enough to get my time.
Similarly, Facebook is a product that helps you discover endless “news” and news, infotainment, and reality—it is after all based on your friends. The product experience is cluttered with too many things to pay attention to, there is more bad content than good as most of what I see is neither interesting nor important, and there are way too many irritating ads. Facebook isn’t good enough to get my time, let alone my data.
MORE TIME FOR DISCOVERY AND REAL SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
Facebook isn’t like real social interaction for me. Countless times, I’ve sat in a room with several other people at a social gathering and we’re all staring at our phones like dazed zombies being “social” on Facebook. WTF? We have an opportunity to be social in the real, old-timey sense of the word and we’re instead choosing the anti-social social path by staring at a one-dimensional, non-responsive, non-human product. I’d love to sit down with previous generations who’ve not been exposed to Facebook and talk to them about how we’ve revolutionized how humanity communicates. I bet describing that sort of behavior as “social” would garner confused looks and chuckles.
My real world is better. Much better. In the real world, I bump into my neighbor at the local art gallery and chat about the Giants. In the real world, I have a group of my besties sitting in the grass laughing together over a
glass bottle of champagne. In the real world, I smile at a stranger on the BART and he smiles back. In the real world, my wife and I have a handstand contest (and I win).
In the real world there are ample opportunities for high-quality, meaningful, interesting, inspiring social interactions. These are real, shared, precious moments. These moments needn’t be turned into commodities and distributed for profit on Facebook. I have countless ways to connect with the people and things I care about and all of them are better than Facebook.
SO THIS IS FAREWELL, FACEBOOK
I’m sure I’m gonna miss a lot of stuff that would otherwise be rushing thru my News Feed. I am also sure I’ll discover a lot of new stuff that I would have otherwise missed with my nose in Facebook. So I’m quitting her, but will continue my love affair with the Internet. If you’re interested, you can find me on Twitter @davidnotdave.