Is Facebook really as essential as it’s made out to be?
My brother thought that my decision to quit Facebook was just me getting caught up in the hype about Quit Facebook Day. This wasn’t actually true: I’d been mulling it over for several months, and just looking for the right time to do so. I announced my intention as a status update on Facebook about nine days ago, and finally pulled the plug on my account on Sunday after I got home from church, a day earlier than I’d intended.
What happened in the end? The silence has been deafening. No-one commented, no-one e-mailed, no-one phoned me up, no-one tried to persuade me that I’d been reading too much Jeff Atwood, no-one questioned my decision. This is not what I expected at all. I’d expected a string of wall posts trying to talk me out of it, people asking me what had happened, discussing among themselves what I was doing, speculation about whether someone had offended me, or whatever. Perhaps a few specially sharpened Bible verses reminding me that Jesus commands us to love one another. Isn’t quitting Facebook tantamount to social suicide? For that reason, I decided merely to deactivate my account rather than delete it outright, so that if things did go that way, I could always return. But after nearly a week, they haven’t.
The only conclusions I could draw from this were that either (a) people don’t really care about me, or (b) people don’t really care about Facebook. The more people I speak to, the more I come to the conclusion that it’s the latter rather than the former. This kind of makes sense. While the majority of my friends have Facebook accounts, a large percentage of them don’t, and of those who do, many of them seem to make very little use of it. Some of them, I just never got round to linking up with on the site, but I’m still friends with them in Real Life.
All in all, I’m far from convinced that Facebook is the “must-have” that the press make it out to be. In fact, it’s probably more of a “nice to have.” We’re told that it has five hundred million “fans” — but if up to forty percent of these “fans” are fake accounts, created by spammers and virus writers to distribute malware, and over fifty percent of the remainder are only occasional users or even dormant accounts, it doesn’t sound quite so impressive.
I’m hoping that the Diaspora project lives up to its promises. It’s a tall order, but done right, a distributed social network, where you install the software and you manage your online relationships, rather than handing them over to commercial interests, could be quite promising. By being distributed in nature, you avoid the pitfalls of a centralised social network which would put you at risk by changing the rules of the game at a whim. If they make it GPL and put it on github, it would be a guarantee against them turning nasty, since if they did, other developers would be able to come along, fork it, and release a version of their own that you could trust. Of course, in order to compete against Facebook, they need to pull out all the stops in terms of usability. After all, if it’s to be successful in that respect, they will need to pitch it first and foremost to not-computer people.