Monday, March 29, 2010

The Facebook dilemma

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. It's been around for quite a while and is a solid way to keep in touch with people. But it's also a privacy advocate's nightmare and is very unhelpful with moving data around. Not to mention the extreme proliferation of ridiculously annoying and useless information.

Inspired by a friend who recently deleted his Facebook account entirely, I have begun to reexamine my usage of the site. There are definitely good things about Facebook, but there are lots of not so good things, too. The question is whether the good outweighs the bad or vice versa.
Facebook has some concerning new privacy changes coming (read about it here and here). This isn't the first time Facebook has suddenly changed privacy settings without telling anyone and it certainly won't be the last. But the serious privacy concerns, coupled with the other issues Facebook has, make me seriously question the usefulness of the site as a whole.

However, for someone like me who is actively trying to promote a website (Overheard on the Scanner), Facebook is an invaluable resource. Here are some numbers to prove the point: Overheard on the Scanner has 12 RSS subscribers, 58 Twitter followers, and...176 Facebook fans. It's easy to see how Facebook fan pages can seriously drive traffic and are an excellent tool for website owners.

  • Huge user-base: There are over 400 million Facebook users, meaning that all of your friends are probably already using it. 
  • Promotion: For those trying to promote an event, website, musical group, cause, etc., Facebook can be a excellent resource for connecting to people and fans. My example is a perfect illustration: Facebook fans outnumber the all the others combined.
  • People: With unlimited photo sharing, super easy status posting, threaded comments, smart notifications...the simple truth is that Facebook is the easiest way to share photos, stay in touch with people, share life stories, etc.
  • Privacy: From keeping your photos even after you delete them, to using your info to advertise to others, Facebook's privacy issues are well documented. Combined with the fact that so few users know how to adjust their privacy settings, and you have a very dangerous situation.
  • No export: Have you ever tried to get your photos/videos/contacts out of Facebook? There's no easy way. Once your data is there, it's next to impossible to move somewhere else. Contrast this to Google's approach, which is that your data belongs to you and should always be removable.
  • Stupid stuff: Between application spam in the newsfeed, to dozens of invites to play games, to friends posting about their dog's latest poop, Facebook is often a cluttered, unhelpful mess.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to use Facebook is going to depend on a lot of factors. Facebook's biggest upside is the personal aspect; it's just so darn easy to connect with people and stay in touch. But is that worth the downsides? 

The upcoming changes to Facebook's privacy policy, in addition to their plans to share your information with even more 3rd party sites is reason to rethink your stance. I encourage everyone to read the articles I linked to in the third paragraph above and then make your own decision. As for myself, I'm sort of splitting the difference. I will never again upload a photo, or include any personal information on my profile that I don't want to be visible to the public. But will I delete my profile? Probably least not yet.

Later this week, look for another post detailing how to change your privacy settings, and what those settings should be.