Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rethinking Facebook

I've had a love/hate relationship with facebook from the word go.

I'm obviously not a Luddite.  I depend on technology for my livelihood, and I have a deep love for programming and an intense interest in a number of esoteric topics in computer science.  But I'm not an early adopter either.  One of the funniest bad predictions I've ever made involved the World Wide Web.  A co-worker approached me in the early nineties, shortly after Mosaic, the first widely available web browser became available and said "Larry, you've got to see this, it's got graphics, links, sophisticated layout capabilities ...".  I had been using the gopher system, along with archie and veronica to retrieve documents off the internet.  I took one look at Mosaic, and said something to the effect of "This World Wide Web thing is never going to take off.  It loads too slowly".

But I warmed up to the Web, and in a narrower sense, I've been warming up to Facebook.  At first it seemed like a weird, unstable, and clunky web interface to me.  But the fact that I could keep up with family members and people from my distant past on Facebook over-ruled my scepticism about the security and safety of the platform.

Then I embarked on a rocky and sometimes wacky relationship with Facebook.  I tried online gaming, which resulted in me inadvertently "application spamming" my friends.  No matter how I tried to filter and make the gaming messages invisible to my non-gaming friends I'd discover that they were getting at least some of the noise from the games (games produced by Zynga were the big offender).  So I pulled back from gaming.

More serious though, is the steady erosion of privacy on Facebook.  I'm a very outgoing and public person (and not easily embarrassed by my own absurdity -- if you don't believe that just listen to the evolution of my blogtalk radio show).  I usually leave my profile wide open (which has only resulted in two episodes of stalking ... amazing when you consider that I've been on the internet since 1991).
But I like to think that social sites are leaving me in control of the extent to which I want my information distributed to the world at large (or to third party commercial concerns).

Facebook has been steadily crossing the line in that respect.  This article from the Electronic Freedom Foundation puts it in in stark perspective.   At this point I'm  trying to figure out whether to stay and determine ways to effectively express my alarm at Facebook's privacy policies, or whether to find some alternative social medium.

It's gotten to the point where I use my identity on either Facebook or Google to access dozens of other related sites.  I still have a somewhat high level of confidence that Google isn't going to abuse that trust.  With Facebook I'm not so sure anymore.

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