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The Would-Be Facebook Refugee’s Dilemma

[ 42 ] May 4, 2010 |

Dan Yoder is leaving Facebook, and implores us to “join him.” He has almost a dozen reasons why. Some of them are even good reasons. He’s not alone. And more and more of us, disenchanted, disenfranchised Facebookers know it.

But here’s the rub, Dan. A lot of us can’t just decide to “leave” without having somewhere to go. That’s because Facebook has become not just an extension of our offline networks, but to some extent, a space in which our virtual identities live – our most important semi-imagined community. The decision to leave such sites is usually agonizing and isolating, because we are deeply committed to what Facebook has to offer, even as many of us abhor on principle what Facebook is becoming. You offer us not a chance at diasporic exile, Dan, but rather a path to online death. We seek instead a better life.

In short, Facebook is like a beloved national homeland poisoned by a corrupt and unyielding government. As in real life, a few people like Dan will respond to such a situation by ritual suicide. Others will choose to exercise voice and or soldier on with resigned loyalty to life under the boot. But in real life, a significant number of people choose to defect, to flee. That’s different from just “deleting” yourself. And to do that, you have to have somewhere to go.

Plenty of us would choose such an exile from the dictatorship of Facebook were there a welcoming neighbor nearby to which we could escape with our friends and families. The latter is crucial: since the “space” of social networking sites is constituted both by the platform and by one’s social network, we need a way to convince people in our Facebook networks to join us in exodus. That requires a social networking utility as cool and functional as Facebook, with none of its privacy-violating nonsense. Not just any country, but a country where we and our friends would actually want to go.

What’s out there? Until recently I couldn’t care less. This weekend I hit my tipping point and poked around a bit on a few other social networking sites. Linked-in is too boring. Friendster is too fluffy. Zorpia is too creepy. GaiaOnline is too surreal plus no short-haired bitch avatars.

But I remain intrigued by a few others. Bebo’s not half bad. Very cool, very versatile, painless to try out, and privacy is its middle name. (But the friend-finder is a bit clunky.) And then there’s MyPirate.net which (while the metaphor appeals to those of us yearning to breathe free of our Facebook overlords) might need a little more time before it reaches its potential.

But I am likeliest to leave Facebook for Orkut – it’s simple, clean, functional and linked right through your Google account. The site needs to be just a little cooler, a little more like Buzz without the direct email interface. (Better yet how about all that plus you rename Orkut “Buzz”?) But most importantly, the site needs to be marketed as trendy enough that I could convince my FB community to jump ship with me.

In short, Orkut would easily be the next Facebook if Google got serious about harnessing the Facebook Refugee market. Maybe they’ll do just this now that so many of Google’s own engineers are joining the exodus. After all they need somewhere to go and just like any community-in-exile it’s in their interest to incentivize people to join them. And unlike the rest of us, they also have the skill and capacity to do just that. Snap to, boys. And don’t be evil, like Facebook.

Meantime, we huddled Facebook masses – those of us with no intention of taking our lives – continue to seek other, fairer shores with stuff we want plus respect for civil liberties. If you’ve heard tell of such lands, please leave word in comments.

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Comments (42)

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  1. Fencedude says:

    My originally rather irrational commitment to never sign up for Facebook seems to be paying off.

    So go me!

  2. Stag Party Palin says:

    What fencedude said. Oh the perils that face the Tweeting Krill.

  3. Dave Brockington says:

    You don’t wan’t bebo, Charli. At least a couple years ago it was the social networking destination for the British high school set.

  4. JJ says:

    I’m curious as to how you came to the conclusion that Google would do any better at respecting your privacy than Facebook?

    • Hanspeter says:

      Because there’s some sort of buzz around Google.

    • MikeJ says:

      I’m curious why people would trust *anyone* with their privacy.

      If you tell people, it’s not private. Learn to keep your[1] mouth shut. You’ll protect yourself and the rest of us won’t have to listen to you.

      [1] “You” the universal you, not meant as an attack on JJ, Charli, or any other individual.

      • Attorney says:

        I couldn’t agree more. Best way to protect your privacy is to DON’T share it with anyone. I always operate under the assumption that WHOEVER I give my information to is going to share that information without my knowledge and against my wishes. Assuming such, one tends to become much, much more selective on what one shares.

    • Bill Petti says:

      That was my thought–Google has had its own problems with regards to users’ privacy–Buzz is just one brilliant example.

      Additionally, what Facebook is becoming is what it has always been–a business. They have to monetize the enormous information they have at their disposal or else the whole platform will go away.

      Facebook isn’t a search engine, which means the relevant data that they have to monetize ends up being all the profile information that we dump into the platform. The cost of doing business for Facebook users (and for users that want to use a premium site) is to have this data leveraged by the company.

  5. Scott de B. says:

    You know, people survived and even had friends before Facebook. How about writing actual letters to your acquaintances?

    • beeg says:

      This is some kind of ironic joke, right? Using a blog post comment thread to chide people on social networking sites? Brilliant.

      Anyway, if I quit facebook, what am I supposed to do while I’m at work? Twitter?

      • Scott de B. says:

        I wasn’t aware the two were incompatible. At any rate, I never claimed I couldn’t live without social networking sites, as Charli did. I can live without them. In fact, I did so for more than 20 years.

        • The Wrath of Oliver Khan says:

          “You know, people survived and even had political discussions before blogs. How about writing pamphlets and actual letters to the editor?”

  6. What’s interesting about Facebook is that it is so nearly universal– people find me on it, even though I am, I think, even easier to find by simply Googling. The solution to the privacy issue is to be circumspect about what one puts on Facebook. Since its business model is to violate your privacy, you’ve got to be your privacy’s own guardian.

  7. Matt says:

    Have you tried a corner bar? I hear that’s a good place where people used to go to have a pseudo-community. And, there’s drink there. But I hope this is at least a bit of a joke, because it’s more than a bit wild, as-is.

  8. mark f says:

    Am I going to look prescient for not having deleted my MySpace account?

  9. Pat says:

    I’ll jump iff Scrabble jumps.

  10. Anderson says:

    I quit Facebook the other day, being unable any longer to confront the existential nausea of what incredibly dull people I am acquainted with, and what that implied about myself.

    • Captain Splendid says:

      Interesting. My reasons for deactivating my FB account were much different, but my reasons for keeping it that way are exactly that.

  11. cpinva says:

    this is why it has paid for me to be deeply, deeply shallow, and boring. did i mention humble?

    there is just absolutely no reason i can conceive of, why anyone would have even the slightest interest in knowing all about me. hence, i’ve never been tempted, in the slightest, to join any of the “social network” sites.

    • Anderson says:

      Cf. Montaigne:

      “And therefore, reader, I myself am the subject of my book; it is not reasonable that you should employ your leisure on a topic so frivolous and so vain.”

  12. Cackalacka says:

    I’m with you; kinda, which is why I started an FB account with an alter-ego.

    Regardless, how would I get caught up with the excruciating banality of my Teatard acquantances? It is mind-blowing, kind of an intellectual enema.

    For example, I had an acquantance yesterday subscribe to the group:

    “Stand With Arizona (and Against Illegal Immigration)”

    Today, I $hit you not, her status states: “Happy Cinqo de Mayo!”

    • Augustin says:

      Dear sin or madame lam from south frica refugee in lam safering to much. lam looking some one how can apply for me in canada.lam like it that city to much oh! my lord help to go to canada help me please God will bless you my brother or my sister my age 1987 lam congolaise man . now lam crying to much about my city in congo south kivu sange was explosion a people was dead even family was dead help me contact 0733739697 kazubakashumbi@yahoo.com

  13. pv says:

    I joined FB because my friends were doing things like having surgeries and getting pregnant, and only telling people on FB. I now start to wonder whether finding out their shenanigoats late is better than reading the dullness. I did, essentially, delete everything in my profile as FB’s privacy rules have devolved (even though there’s practically nothing there I’d be embarrassed about–just paranoid, I guess).

    I have found the beauty of Twitter: subscribe to the writers, thinkers, and bloggers you like, or that write about topics you are interested in, and you’ve got a constantly updating bookmark list. I don’t know what else it would serve.

  14. Amanda in the South Bay says:

    There’s nothing Facebook does that I can’t use someplace else-if I want to IM someone I pidgin them, I already have e-mail accounts; if I want longer blog posts than what people normally put on Facebook I normally use Livejournal. I suppose it can be good for pics (though there are obviously other sites for it) and maybe group invites (though again you can just use Google for that).

    Plus Palo Alto is such a stuck up city, I can’t in good conscience support FB.

  15. I don’t know – I still like Facebook. Just don’t add crap you don’t want people to see, don’t be friends with people you don’t want to be friends with and don’t post naked pictures of yourself before a job interview (<- protip from Joesph Nye.) It seems pretty simple… oh, and don't do farmville. Seriously.

  16. ChrisS says:

    People pointing out how they never joined facebook on blog post about facebook are the equivalent of people reviewing recipes and stating, “Well, I didn’t do it exactly, I switched out the coriander with sage, the lamb with chicken, and the rice with potatoes, but other than that I really liked the recipe!”

  17. [...] others to do likewise. I find his points to be well-reasoned and highly persuasive. Still, like Charli Carpenter, I remain personally reluctant to abandon Facebook, because, as Carpenter observes, “Facebook [...]

  18. Sophist says:

    GaiaOnline is too surreal plus no short-haired bitch avatars.

    Additionally, they’re involved in a land war in Asia (i.e. 4chan), and you know what they say about getting entangled in that sort of thing

    • JJ says:

      At least Moot respects privacy… aha! We all setup 4chan accounts and that will be our new Social Network. Hmm, maybe /b/ will be my landing pad?

  19. Frank says:

    I’m an IT security guy & I have a facebook account & no security concerns at all. How? I used a sock puppet account as I do with all my security related research. I gave them nothing of any value that they can use.

    True, its a violation of FB rules & family and friends have to be alerted as to who I am so they can find me. But I’m OK with all that.

    Still, show me a better FB and I will be there.

  20. JJ says:

    Coincidentally, a friend alerted me today of a new “share” feature that allows people to post your pictures outside of your privacy wall. She has kids and was especially upset about this. I have been unable to find a facebook announcement relating to the new feature. I think my account is going bye bye tonight. Like someone mentioned above, I’m not embarrassed about anything on my profile, but that does not mean I want the world to see it. This is about control, and privacy is not relevant to Facebook’s business interests.

  21. Andrew says:

    Facebook has turned all of us into our own brands. They are our brand managers and have exclusive control. In return they provide the service of aggregating a bunch of services already offered on other sites and duplicate our real life networks on a closed platform.

    • JJ says:

      In the future, we will all be politicians because we won’t have any choice. Maybe that’s where I can start my business, I’ll be “the average guy’s PR manager”….

  22. cynickal says:

    I’m amused by how quickly people have forgotten that CARNIVORE is still opperating, AT&T is still data dumping without warrants and Homeland Security can look at you naked as you pass through airport secuity, yet a business selling business information has people’s undies in a twist.
    Way to stick it to THE MAN!

  23. sherrold says:

    Is Dreamwidth too crunchy-granola for you?

  24. Barbara Yuki says:

    I love your metaphor about Facebook being the great corrupt land. That’s really what it feels like (I’m sure there’s a facebook app along that line you can join and annoy your friends with :) ) My FB privacy settings are pretty darn high already, and I hate to say that I’m reluctant to leave it because I like it. Thanks for the information about other networking sites and your take on them; I’m linking to you from our site, and hopefully we’ll generate some dialogue on our end about the issue!

  25. [...] The Would-Be Facebook Refugee’s Dilemma – [...]

  26. Mistpark was created to fill that need. But now we could use a few refugees to seed the population.

  27. great posting, i definitely like this website, keep it.

  28. [...] in the public domain (and users understand this). The kinds of FB privacy issues I’ve often blogged about (and which I’ve raised mightily with Stu with respect to his tools being used on FB [...]

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