I still remember well when I created a Facebook account on 3 March 2010. It was because I wanted to add an attractive woman I knew from the sports center as a friend, that way I could figure out from her profile if she was single (she wasn’t). Initially I asked if she had a Hyves account and I was surprised to hear that she only had a Facebook account.
Back then Hyves was still the most popular social network in the Netherlands. It had twice the number of unique visits compared to Facebook in those days, and it was only in August 2011 that Facebook passed Hyves. It’s decline in popularity hasn’t stopped since then.
If I remember correctly I also had a Hyves account, even though I hated it. It was almost like there was a competition to create the most ugly and unreadable profile page because Hyves allowed for so much customization, unlike Facebook. I loved Facebook then for its clean design, and my family and friends also created accounts not long after me.
But now the time has come for me to say goodbye to Facebook. On Monday 28 January I will remove my Facebook account. I’ll elaborate on how I’ve come to this decision.
Facebook does not use an open standard
Anyone can set up an e-mail server. E-mails can be sent to anyone on any server because open standards are used. This is quite different for Facebook: it’s under the control of one company. If I’m on a different social network I can’t add people on Facebook as friends or even send them messages. Because we don’t want to be active on more than one social network, people flocked to Facebook because everyone started using that.
As a consequence of this incompatibility between social networks Facebook has been able to lock people into using its product and establish a very powerful position. Because of the incompatibility competing with Facebook is difficult. Of course there are competitors like Google+, but they feature the same incompatibilities as Facebook.
I don’t think a lack of competition is a good thing. What if e-mail was under the control of a few big companies? It wouldn’t be acceptable if users of e-mail provider A wouldn’t be able to send e-mails to users of provider B now, would it? Then why do we accept this from social networks?
I think the solution lies in distributed social networks such as Diaspora. Another example is the microblogging service identi.ca which is an open variant of Twitter. The software which runs them is open source, anyone can start a server and users can communicate with users on other servers. There isn’t a single large company which is in control. Just like e-mail.
Maybe I’ll give social networks another try if or when these distributed social networks take off. But I don’t just have an issue with Facebook, I have a problem with social networks altogether.
The (dis)advantages of facebook
What annoys me about social networks is that many people write things which are plain uninteresting. They’re stuck in traffic jams or they ‘like’ a company which I don’t care about. This wastes my time and is the aspect of Facebook I certainly won’t be missing. Facebook and especially Twitter are meant for very short messages, which makes their content superficial. Contrary to blogs, which stimulate more reflection.
On the other hand I enjoy seeing the travel photos of people, even if I haven’t met them in person for years. Or reading about how they’re doing in life, in case what they’re doing is interesting. It serves to satisfy my curiosity. A study on Facebook users by Bumgarner (2007) reveals that voyeurism is indeed an important motivation to use Facebook.
Regarding my own behavior on Facebook, I use my blog to share my experiences anyway. My Facebook account merely serves to see what others share there while I share a minimal amount of information myself. So people won’t be missing my presence on Facebook much I guess.
Apart from these more basic desires, Facebook turned out to be useful to find old classmates. I still need to get into contact with some of them, that’s why I’m postponing the removal of my account.. It might be useful for that in the future too, but that’s too bad then.
Life without facebook
But even if it’s difficult, doing the right thing is most important. From now on I’ll be collecting e-mail addresses, weblog addresses, phone numbers and home addresses of everyone I might need to contact in the future. Since my stint in Nepal I know people from all over the world. Even if I don’t write them often I think it would be fun to meet up with them if I happen to visit their countries someday, so I don’t want to lose their contact data.
From 28 January onward I’ll be going back to the old ways of using e-mail and phone calls. My self-imposed exile from Facebook should be no problem for my family and my closest friends. No longer will I be the fiftieth person to write ‘congratulations’ on your profile when you celebrate your anniversary, I’ll just call you or visit your party instead.