In case you don’t read stuff on the Internet (which, if you are reading this, is unlikely), Facebook commenced its IPO process this week.
I have never tried Facebook. I have also decided to give up on Google +. I have only used Twitter in relation to my Tumblr.
Does this reflect on online social networking websites or me? Probably both.
My issues with online social networks
I remember first hearing about Facebook from a friend who was extolling its supposed virtue (compared to the then more popular in 2008, would you believe it? My Space) as being limited to only University Students and professionals. He perceived Facebook as a more elite and exclusive social networking site. The elitist beginnings of Facebook turned me off a little bit. Ironically, it is now Facebook’s ubiquity that is probably part of why I am not interested.
There are many other more concrete reasons why I am not clamoring to join Facebook. There are the its obvious privacy concerns, “frictionless sharing“, apparent inanity and its extremely ugly interface.
However, I think my most fundamental objection to Facebook as a way of interacting on the Internet is its insistence on bilateral and binary relationships as the model for sharing and interacting on the Internet. I understand that Facebook has refined its sharing settings (of which, some people on Facebook are evidently still unaware) but the basic underpinning remains that you are “friends” with people and you “like” things. You are either friends with someone or you are not.
Call me old fashioned, but I really want to interact with my “friends” through more personal mediums such as email or telephone conversations. However, I really love the Internet for the ability to read, see and hear the thoughts of people who I may not want to be friends with (or more likely, people who may not want to be friends with me).
Given my dislike of Facebook, I really thought that Google + was for me. Maybe it is, there are many aspects of it that I find appealing. The privacy settings seem to be an improvement, but definitely not perfect. The interface is pretty clean and inoffensive and seems to encourage genuine conversation, albeit limited to tech topics and US politics. It does seem to combine some of the best parts of Twitter with a more traditional interface.
The fundamental failure of Google + as an online social network is that it is hardly social and not much of a network. While I am not an extremely social person, I am not a social outcast, however Google + sure makes me feel like one. If I take out content mechanically posted by news sources, various arms of Google or content cross posted from other blogs, and a few dedicated users of Google +, the last update in my “Stream” was from October 2011.
It is for this main reason that I am mothballing my Google + page for time being. If Google succeeds in taking over the world with Google + without falling into the same privacy traps as Facebook then I may be back. But, I doubt it.
My limited experience with Tumblr has been as a blogging platform rather than as a social network. As a blogging platform, it has a lot of advantages such as being simple and extremely easy to set up. Most Tumblrs appear to me to consist of content reblogged from Tumblr by bored college sturents in a rapidfire scattergun approach. The remainder are generally quite excellent or focussed on Ryan Gosling.
However, as an online social networking website, I think it fails. The primary way of interacting is to either “like” or reblog content of other Tumblrs. There are deliberately no comments in Tumblr. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to find out which Tumblrs are popular, and who other Tumblr users folllow. Additionally, the simplicity in setting up a new Tumblr (which is generally an advantage) and the fact that many users appear to have a number of Tumblrs means that there is rarely an alignment between a user’s online identity and their Tumblr. I don’t think that any of these are a problem with Tumblr, but I think that it means that it can never really be a true social networking website.
I have to admit that my answer is not original. I am heavily influenced by a number of bloggers that I read, mainly Marco Arment and others, who have adopted their blog as their principal identity on the Internet.
Obviously, by creating this site, I have decided to give this approach a shot. This approach of maintaining a public blog may not, on first blush, sit well with my concerns about privacy. However, given that even “hip” social networks seem to run pretty fast and loose with your personal data, I have realised that it is much easier to assume that anything you post online may be seen by people who you would prefer didn’t see it. The logical next step of that conclusion for me is that you either:
1 – don’t post anything online;
2 – don’t care;
3 – only post things online that you are 100% sure are anonymous; or
4 - only post things online that you are prepared to “own” and defend as consistent with your personal identity.
For me, I have discussed my reasons for beginning a blog already and so I feel most comfortable with option 4. I think there are valid reasons for using Twitter as a microblogging service (hence why I have at least tried to establish a twitter account ), but I find it a pretty inefficient way to interact or share content with people in a meaningful way.
Maybe I have it all wrong. Consistent with the approach of owning my identity on the Internet, I have disabled comments. BUT, if you disagree or have something to say, please get in contact with me (or reply on your own blog or even Tweet at me).