Why I’m Going to Delete My Facebook Account

I am an extrovert and a person who knows people; ask any of my friends, and they will tell you some wacky story about how I knew someone they knew from way back when. Latest example: the Jeff I sold wontscale.com to used to post on rec.music.christian. So did my friend Jeff. Turns out that they know each other from back then. As I told Amy, “Your Jeff knows my Jeff!” Also, neither of those Jeffs was really Amy’s Jeff.

Enough rambling about how I seemingly know everyone. The point of the matter: I’ve been finding Facebook increasingly unusable. I’m a strong Facebook networker: 1348 friends as of this posting. Facebook used to let me manage this stream well: friends lists were the new hotness this time last year. I categorized pretty much every one of my friends into one of those lists. It wasn’t for the fine-toothed granularity of privacy options I could give each list, although those were nice—after all, you might not want business contacts to have full, unfettered access to your Mom posting things on your Wall. No, it was purely so I could manage my damn Facebook experience.

The failure of the “friend” taxonomy, as countless Internet pundits have pointed out, is that there are varying levels of friend. My mother and brother are both on Facebook; so are random people who think they know me from all the random Internet things I do. I can list both as “friends”, but that appellation doesn’t fit either scenario. Facebook, and social networking in general, have made the term “friend” well nigh meaningless.

As such, I created lists of people by how I knew them. I then had a handful of lists that cut across those classifications. I’ll admit to two: what I termed “Essential Peeps” and “The Ladies”. I wanted to see updates from people on those two lists for obvious reasons. “Essential Peeps” was the default list, and “The Ladies” was right below this.

Facebook nuked this a couple of months ago with their current iteration of their homepage, which de-emphasized friends lists for a lifestream. Their reasons for doing so have never been clearly stated, but I can think of two strong ones:

  1. Designing the home page around the average Facebook user, who has 80-150 friends, best serves the needs of the largest number of users with the smallest number of engineering resources. This is an optimization decision, and I’m an engineer and understand that.
  2. By focusing their home page as a lifestream, they seek to make their site a destination, rather than a jumping-off point.

The push towards Open Graph makes a lot of sense in terms of breaking down the walled garden, honestly. Dare Obasanjo wrote about Open Graph from a Web developer’s perspective, and it’s honestly one of the best things I’ve read about OG.

There are more examples in Hugh’s post but you get the idea. Social objects had been represented by “fan pages” in the Facebook world but with the Open Graph Protocol, it is now possible for any random website to become a part of Facebook’s social graph. This is a very powerful and liberating concept both from the perspective of what it enables Facebook’s platform to do but also because it gets rid of some ugly forms of lock-in. For example, Robert Scoble would no longer need to maintain a brand presence on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/scobleizer that is different from his website at http://www.scobleizer.com to stay connected with fans of his blog who are Facebook users.

See, that’s a net positive for the Web. Surely you’ve seen TV and radio advertisements that urge you to look them up on Facebook. Isn’t that stupid? It’s buying and setting up AOL keywords all over again! Facebook sees this, and wants to tear down the walls of its garden. I actually applaud that.

I do not like how they are tearing the walls down. The privacy implications of what they’re doing are painfully bad; instead of opting-in to things like Open Graph, you have to opt out of them if you’re concerned about privacy. Sure, that rapidly increases the installed userbase for Open Graph, but it also throws their audience out into the wider Web without much notice.

The failing of Open Graph is, in my mind, the opted-in-by-default nature. Facebook is ignoring its very zeitgeist, which is that things spread virally. On Facebook, it’s a quasi-meritocracy: if it adds value to users, they’ll tell their friends about it. Users don’t think about things like “value adds”, though; they think about things being funny or cool or worth ridiculing. Instead, mother Facebook is saying, “Here. You want this. Now open wide and take your medicine!”

Fuck that noise.

Dan Yoder recently wrote a list of 10 Reasons to Delete Your Facebook Account. While blog lists, especially of ten items, should themselves be deleted, Yoder makes some good points. Points 10, 8, and 7 are the keys for me. [Point 9? Ad hominem.] I own my content, not you. You just help me share it with people. I add value to you by sharing content through your pipes, which keeps viewers on your site so you can sell more ads and make money. As seen above, I don’t think that the default is social; I think the default is viral, and you should seek out connectors to make the argument to your users as to why they should make things social. And, well, bait-and-switch sucks.

My reason for deleting Facebook is pretty clear to me: I am the kind of networking user that they need, but they refuse to give me the tools to help me manage my network, which allows me to grow the network for them. I’m the kind of user who will deeply connect people and bring them into understandable groups, which is the key for selling ads. I’m the kind of user who would urge users towards Open Graph. Despite all that, Facebook is telling me with their design choices and operating methodologies that they don’t need me.

Fine. I don’t need them, either. My Facebook account will be deleted 15 May 2010. I’m not doing it right away because I want people to know that I’m disappearing before I just do so.

If you want to keep up with me, I’m ridiculously easy to find on the Internet. Y’all know my name is weird. It used to bother me, but now it makes me easy to find. And hey, if you want it, here’s my cell phone number: 256-527-8152. I have no compunction putting that on the Internet: at least two or three thousand people have it already, and I’ve had the same number for years. I screen calls, so hey. Also, I love email.

Bye, Facebook. It’s been fun.

20 Dec 2010 Addendum:

I ended up resurrecting my Facebook account a couple weeks later when I left my previous job. Enough co-workers guilted me into keeping up with it. I’ve de-emphasized Facebook in large part, but I have kept up with it.

Tonight, I found that they completely obscured the Friends Lists from the user interface. No more can you click Friends in the sidebar and then access the lists you’ve created. You can still add people to lists—I added a Facebook friend just today, and I was able to add her to a list—but said list now has zero value to me.

The Groups feature is an obvious attempt to do public groupings of users, which certainly has a high value in terms of network analysis. That said, Facebook groups are a privacy nightmare. The comparison is being made to Twitter’s lists, but I think that misses a point: you can have both public and private Twitter lists. I have both, and I use private ones to sort the large mass of people I follow to smaller streams of data. Those lists are “a-list”, “b-list”, and “c-list”. Of course, not everyone is in one of those private lists, and some people are in both public and private lists. 1

In putting friends lists out to pasture, they’ve made Facebook far, far less useful to me. I’m quite inclined to nuke it, again. I won’t, but damn if I don’t want to bail.

  1. You, of course, are on the a-list. You know this. It’s our little secret.