Facebook has given privacy a kick in the groin. If this is news to you, you should probably check out:
Those who’ve been watching the plucky start-up were already aware that Facebook is mired in accusations that it was founded by a crook and funded by a nut and some gooks. Into this fray comes Facebook’s controversy over their privacy settings. It used to be that Facebook provided a space that was just for friends and family. “Just” as in “only.” As in, not public.
The new privacy settings even led to a movement last month to have a “Quit Facebook Day.” Even if you manage to tackle FB’s labyrinth of privacy settings, don’t use any apps, or never use FacebookConnect you still can’t control what happens when your friends fail to make their stuff private. You can’t stop Facebook from censoring your messages. Even if we all flock back to Myspace or Friendster or Tribe [or Whatever] we have no guarantee that that data won’t be given away. It would probably be wise to consider anything hosted on a faraway computer you can’t control as potentially public, even email. At the very least we should commit to using sites that have consistent and reasonable privacy policies (thus the total opposite of Facebook ).
But entrusting Facebook is clearly no longer the way to go. Here’s why. In my myriad conversations about this issue, I get one of three responses:
This person shouldn’t be on Facebook. There are much better public sites that do everything Facebook does but better and more beautifully (more on that later).
This person shouldn’t be on Facebook. These are the people Facebook seeks to confound with their myriad privacy on-off switches, e.g. most of us. Because these folks aren’t too concerned about most of what we put out there, we won’t be meticulous about making sure everything is set to private. We won’t think of our Facebook stream as a blog for all the world to see and eventually we will accidentally post something that will get us embarrassed, fired, divorced or deported.
“privacy is very important to me. I only want to share stuff with my friends.”
This person shouldn’t be on Facebook. Because this person cares about privacy. If anything, they should be boycotting Facebook. Wake up: Facebook wants our info to be public so they can make more money on their ads. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted he’s ok with the whole thing being confusing because he doesn’t believe in privacy.
Oh the outrage!
But alas, Quit Facebook Day has come and gone and your account still remains. Don’t feel too bad…so does mine.
Now that Facebook has decided to make it standard to share people’s stuff, why are we still using Facebook? Simple: because no matter how much better the other sites are, Facebook is where the people are. But having all the people didn’t stop Myspace fom sinking or Friendster before it. We just need a critical mass of people to join these other sites and Facebook will be history.
“But,” I hear you asking, “what are these wondrous websites?” Patience, dear reader, for you have discovered the subject of page two…
What is it that people get out of Facebook? It’s a great way to post photos, but not as good as Flickr or Picasa. It’s an easy way message someone but email has been the superior solution to that for virtual ages.
Many of us signed up for FB because it’s a handy way to find long-lost acquaintances. But that’s not so much a feature as a sign of their successful ubiquity…true, you can search for people by name, but the search is not very good. And really, you can post your real name anywhere on the web, people do so on Facebook because there is an illusion of privacy. While Facebook is still a better directory than the sites below, people don’t login to Facebook daily to use it as a web equivalent to the phonebook.
That leaves the lifestream: it’s an easy way to share things with your friends and see, at a glance, what your friends have recently shared. This, I believe, is what keeps people coming back to the land of blue boxes. The lifestream is a great concept (not that they invented it) but, just as Facebook improved the look of a social network, there are lots of sites that are improving on the look and concept of the lifestream. I often hear the comment that the Facebook lifestream is full of clutter. This is true, but it is also true that squeezing all your videos, causes and links into that tiny lifestream makes everything but the lame status update look like trash. A quality article or photo posted in your lifestream may go overlooked because you really have to click on the link to decide whether or not it’s something you actually want to see. So more often than not, we don’t click. We only take the time to peruse and respond to those status updates…the least important of our friends postings’. Fortunately, there are newer sites that have figured out how let you share stuff without the work it takes to keep up a blog. If you want to share stuff online and are sick of Facebook, here are some options.
If you only use Facebook to share the things that you’ve found (rather than generating new content yourself) Stumble Upon is the site for you. One way to think of it is this: when you have time to kill, you can press a button and have it load every cool webpage your friends sent you, with their comment at the top. And if you don’t have any friends, the magical Stumble button will randomly load a webpage you will like (it’s good at guessing). Instead of reading about a page and then deciding if you want to click on a link, it just loads the link. If in two seconds you decide it’s a waste of your time, click the button again and you’re on to the next site. Stumble Upon is the fastest way to go through your friends’ shared stuff and, instead of cluttering your inbox with forwarded links, it puts all that stuff in one place til you have time to look at it. Also, it’s super-easy to share stuff. You can share with people who don’t use Stumble Upon by sending the link to their email (this is not ideal. If someone’s sending you links this way, they’re probably trying to get you to sign up for Stumble Upon). You have to choose who you want to send things to, but in some ways this is an advantage because it stops people from sending that laughing kitten to every-damn-body.
StumbleUpon is great, but what if you want to sometimes create your own content? What if you occasionally want to share pictures you took yourself, or occasionally a few paragraphs of wit that have struck your brain? Tumblr is the best way to do this. If microblogging is too twee and blogging is a whole hellavalotta work, Tumblr is that Goldilocks sweet spot right in the middle: juuuuuust riiiiiiiight.
For those of you who flocked to Facebook because you thought Myspace was tacky, remember what a joy it was to behold Facebook’s clean and simple design. One look at Tumblr and you’ll understand that this is how sharing stuff with your friends should look.
It’s adorably simple to post anything. In fact everything about is easy. It’s easy to make it look sexy, it’s easy to keep up a bunch of different sites, it’s easy to sync with Facebook, it’s easy to add comments, it’s easy to repost what your friends sent you…if Tumblr were any easier it would have to be a former Disney Star trying to get a record deal.
On Facebook there are groups that exist to support a cause or idea but they don’t actually do anything. With Tumblr, it’s very easy for a group to start their own page and collaborate on whatever they want. For example, on FB you may be invited to join a group called “Sometimes I Secretly Like Really Cheesy Music” and that’s about as far as you can take it. But on Tumblr, you could start a Tumblog called cheesysongsisecretlylove.tumblr.com that you could actually do something with: like post your cheesy songs when you catch yourself enjoying them online, and subscribe to the list to enjoy and comment on your friends’ cheesy songs.
Though this site is only for sharing music, I would be remiss to leave it off because it is my favorite site in the whole fucking world and I’m obsessed with it. If you look at Facebook as a way to follow your friends’ chronological lifestreams than Blip.fm is a way to follow your friends’ chronological music streams. To those finding a web community through Mafia Wars: I feel so sorry for you friend. Because the community you create surrounding something you are passionate about (like music) is leaps and bounds more rich than any game you are playing on Facebook. Social networks set up for specific interests are chock full of features that make advancing your hobby as rewarding as playing a video game (for example, check out Deviant Art for artists, Urbis for writers, LibraryThing or Shelfari for bookworms, Zoetrope for screenwriters). Then at the end of the day you have something to show for it besides a virtual farm…because no one cares about your Zombie Wars body count in the real world. Seriously.
Yes, fucking Twitter. True, it’s less personal. But that’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to “friend” the same people who “friend” you. If I have to listen to another person hate on Twitter because they “don’t want to know “when their friends went to the bathroom and ate a sandwich” I may have to eat a kitten. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT PEOPLE DO ON FACEBOOK. I don’t mean eat kittens. I mean they only login to look at their lifestream, which is filled with lots of garbage: autogenerated messages, imperatives to join useless virtual clubs, pokes and, yes, occasionally what your friend ate for breakfast. You want a site that has the simplicity and ubiquity of Facebook without Farmville, Mafiawars, annoying dating ads, stupid causes and countless zombie-fed apps? Welcome to Twitter.
Finally, if you’ve become hooked on a multitude of sites I must recommend Posterous. Isn’t it a bummer having to upload all your pics to Facebook and then again to Flickr and then again to Picasa? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could share all your photos, videos, stories, blogs, crazy notions, etc to all the different sites you use by sending one email? I shit you not; I’m in love with this site. It’s very similar to Tumblr: You can make your stream private so only your friends can follow you or make individual posts private. You can have as many streams as you want, but unlike Tumblr you can post to them simultaneously (like say, for example, I want to post a political song to both my music lifestream and my political lifestream). But unlike Tumblr, you can import all those old Myspace blogs (or whatever) and unlike Tumblr, did I mention you can POST BY effing EMAIL? Oh, I did? Well, it’s a really convenient feature. Also, you can search for users on Posterous, while on Tumblr you can only search for tags.
There you have it: the key to getting the hell off Facebook.
All we have to do is pick one or more of these sites and set it up to deliver what we post to Facebook automatically. This is my current solution to the Facebook debate. People think I update Facebook daily but I actually update all these other sites and it shows up on my Facebook lifestream too… now I just have to wait for everyone else to figure out these, other, better ways of sharing things exists, so I don’t have to login to that-one-site to see what they‘re up to. I’m happy to help if you have any questions, though I assure you the point is that they’re plenty simple! Do you have easy-to-use sites that you are using to connect with friends? I know there are a ton of others. Recommend them in the comments.