Over the past year I’ve agonised over keeping my Facebook account, but everytime I’ve considered deleting it I’ve come to the same conclusion – the benefits of having one far outweigh the benefits of not having a Facebook account.
Big Brother is Poking You
Let’s start with the negative shall we? First is privacy – Facebook is infamous for dicking around with users profiles and privacy settings. It should be on the tip of every Facebook users mind that what they post in private today could be on the front page of The Sun tomorrow. It’s something I’m concerned about and it’s likely if Facebook did not give me some measure of control over my privacy settings then I’d definitely look for an alternative.
Second, Farmville (and it’s ilk). Seriously I don’t mind if you want to raise your virtual tomatoes with your virtual seed that you bought with your virtual cash that you paid for with you real money. However, why does Facebook feel it’s important that I should know all this? I don’t care, I don’t want to know about your gold egg, your new apartment, your lost Koala, your bean crop or anything you spend mindless hours filling the bank account of some company you’ve never even heard of.
The Great Unwashed
Thirdly, popularity. Yes I appreciate most will not understand this one. Let me try to explain. When I joined Facebook it was little more than a listing site. You could post photo’s, a profile and maybe there was a few extras I don’t remember. Then a couple of years later came the MySpace refugees – and with them they brought their ugly profiles and ubiquitous junk plugins. OK so I was a Facebook snob, I never got into MySpace and I’m glad – I feel less dirty for it. Yes the MySpace crowd ruined Facebook – but I will admit I played some of the games to start with, I took part in the stupid polls and apps that desperately scream “define me”! It’s not something I’m proud of.
So why stick with Facebook despite these issues? Read on…
Probably the biggest factor for most people is friends and not just current friends, old ones, ones that we lost contact with since leaving school. In the last year I’ve managed to catch up with many people I wasn’t sure I’d see again. It’s great to be able to keep tabs on your friends without having to personally check in on them. However this is not the biggest factor for me, not yet.
The Walled Garden
The problem with having anything personal on the web, is it’s there for the whole world. It’s there for your friends, strangers, authorities, your boss and clients – and it’s hard to scrub out because a number of fly by night start-ups in the social networking industry seem to feel entitled to grab, aggregate and disseminate you’re every post. For example, I run this blog, an identi.ca account, a twitter account, posterous, linkedin and facebook. But a quick google for my name or “wafitz” will pull up not only old accounts that we are never given the ability to delete (e.g. Mobeypicture, forums) but also a ton of accounts and scrapers from websites that I’ve never created or accessed before – 123people.com, ubervu.com, radaris.com, tweetfeed.com… and many more.
Now some of these are taking publicly accessible data and aggregating it as part of a larger feed around a topic – but some of them, take ubervu.com for instance, seem to have created an actual profile with an offer for me to log in when I click to view it. I’m not sure any DPA laws are being broken just yet but where is the line drawn? It’s a very grey area.
Facebook at least allows some moderate control over this. You can post opinions and profile information that is only viewable to users you select (public by default – bit of a concern), as long as this stays in place, I see no harm in keeping the facebook account. It also makes a nice sink bowl to collect all my other accounts that feed into it. This is something that Twitter and Identi’ca just don’t manage to do. Google Buzz is halfway there by giving you the option to make a buzz private – but it’s only really accessible through gmail at the moment which is a pain – it needs to be a separate site.
Managing Public Image
On the one hand you want to keep things private, but on the other hand – I don’t want someone googling my name and finding something I posted to some obscure conspiracy theo^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H harmless forum discussing comic books 6 years ago. This is where the partially public aspect of Facebook comes in. I want people looking “Wes Fitzpatrick” to find my very non-detailed facebook profile, or my unopinionated blog. In this day and age, anyone important who has to make decisions about you for whatever reason is googling you – even if it’s against public policy be assured they’re doing it anyway. It’s imperative to manage your public profile online so they see what you want them to see.
Finally a strong contender for keeping me in facebook is their photo galleries. A year ago I started testing the limits by uploading the majority of 8 years worth of digital photos to the site. Despite a limit on the number of pictures per album – their album limit is seemingly unending. This is in contrast to the other major photo-hosting websites such as Picassa, Flickr and Photobucket. Sure they offer decent tools, but this doesn’t compare to not having a monthly cap (or at least one which I’ve discovered yet). Besides I can do most of my editing and geotagging offline. Also tagging people – what other site offers this?! This is the single most awesome feature of social networking. There are so many benefits to tagging:
- Instantly see what photos you are in
- Instantly see what photos your friends are in
- Instantly know when a friend has put a picture you are in online
- Find out who that person is that everyone is talking about
- Put a name to face when you get a friend request
I think Google are doing something like this with Picassa, but again it’s the limit. Perhaps for us signing over some rights of use, other websites could offer unlimited storage in thesame way?
In conclusion, I’m not going to be leaving Facebook soon, the positives at this point outweigh the negatives, but it’s something that’s never far from the back of my mind and I’m always watching their press announcements to see what direction they’re taking next. You should too!