Even though I've been on the Internet for more than half my life and on the web for three quarters of its, I have some significant new tech and Web 2.0 luddite streaks. I don't have a cell phone, for instance, though that's as much because I don't want to pay lots of money to deal with the phone company's shenanigans as it is because I don't want to use the phone when I'm taking a hike.
I'm not on MySpace for pretty simple reasons: The site looks like all the amateur web designers from 1996 threw a huge party, got smashing drunk, and threw up all over my web browser. It's like Geocities got a whole bunch of money for a class reunion but still held it in the school gym. I may not be gung ho for every new netfad, but I have no nostalgia for mid-90s web design.
Facebook is another Web 2.0 phenomenon I haven't participated in, much to mollybzz
's distance scrabble dismay. The site has struck me as a lot more professional than MySpace and it's probably got more of my friends from the past as users. But a few things bug me about Facebook:
- People's profiles are mostly private by default. I've occasionally googled a name and found a completely uninformative Facebook page. At least a visit to MySpace can tell you if you've got the right person. As a non-impulsive consumer, I like to have a sense of a product or service before I sign up. For instance, I get the sense that a lot of Facebook posts aren't very insightful, but it's possible people I know put more thought into their content. But the site doesn't make it easy for me to figure that out.
- As a result, most of what I know about Facebook is by reputation. And it hasn't done a very good job of maintaining that.
- Nine months ago or so, all I knew about Facebook was that you could play Scrabble and you got lots of random undesired bits of marketing thrown in your face. I think that was when they were trying their "Broadcast to everyone what you just bought on Amazon even if it's How To Deal With A Venereal Disease or a present you were going to surprise your girlfriend with. Signing up for in-your-face advertising didn't sound fun.
- I hear they realized the error of their ways on that one and made it opt-in. I also heard Facebook played an important role in getting people excited about and involved with the Obama campaign. So that's good and sociologically interesting, at least.
- But even with in-your-face ads and automatic broadcasting of private activities gone, I'm not particularly excited about their approach to privacy. When they sign up, they ask for your passwords to web mail and instant messenger services. They then proceed to spam the people in your address book. (I hear you get to select who gets spammed, but it's still very impersonal spam.) Even if Facebook's address book combing is implemented perfectly and hasn't ever had a security breach, telling random Internet users that it's okay to give your password to third parties is bad virtual citizenship. If, when you joined a gym, somebody said "Can I have the keys to your house so I can look through your rolodex and phone all your friends," most people would say "Are you crazy?" But the majority intuition about cybersafety isn't very acute yet, so major players on the web have a duty to foster (or at least not undermine) good habits of online behavior.
- This evening, I received an automatic Facebook invite (subject: "Check out my Facebook profile") from someone I know a little. I'm not a very popular person, so this is like my third ever. No biggie. Then within the course of three hours I got four messages from Facebook with the subject "XYZ has added you as a friend on Facebook..." Huh? Did Facebook broadcast who had found me in their address book? These messages give a very odd sense of privacy invasion and I haven't even given them any yet. Is Facebook going to be this annoying when I'm an actual user? Why would I sign up for that?
In Facebook's defense, I've gotten more annoying messages from other Web 2.0 sites. Somebody I'd had a brief argument with on a Dragonfest mailing list added me to her combination-blog-and-mass-mail site so I got a bunch of essays written by someone I didn't find interesting on topics I didn't care about. And some kid in Utah signed up for MySpace with my GMail address (which had not yet appeared in spiderable locations), so I got a bunch of unsolicited friend requests from sketchy groups. Something similar happened with some high school sports website, so I periodically got mail inviting me to vote in polls about Friday night football and stuff.
Am I wrong about Facebook? Is it totally awesome and it's just got a misleading representation? Would it provide significant value to someone like me? I've already got a blog and a website. I'm the first hit on Google for "Trevor Stone" and I'm on the first page for "trevor new vista boulder," so anyone who really wants to find me can do so easily. I don't feel the need to share the minutia of my life (do you really care that I ate leftover curry bratwurst tonight?), and when I have something substantial to say I tend to spend half an hour writing a post. So other than distance Scrabble, why is Facebook popular?