Social networking compels us to disclose all manner of things, because we’re only telling our friends. Well, that’s what we’re meant to think. But anything we tell our friends, we’re also telling Facebook, or Twitter, or Foursquare, or Google, and at some point the VCs and angel investors will demand some sort of return on their capital – at which point these entities will find it necessary to use your personal information to make money. Yes, I do continue to use these things – but when I only have maybe half a dozen friends on Foursquare, Buzz, Whrrl, and Gowalla combined, what’s the ratio of communicating with friends vs. preparing a detailed demographic survey to be sold for big bucks in a couple of years?
The problem with these services is that they promote lock-in. Everyone’s on Facebook, because everybody is on Facebook. It’s Metcalfe’s Law run riot – as long as these systems are closed, there can be only one – the more there are, the less likely you are to use them all. Friendster begat MySpace begat Facebook, with each one being effectively killed by its successor – because who wants to update three different social network sites? If there were some sort of interoperability system for social networking, you’d at least have the security that comes with distribution – imagine if email were simply one great big bulletin board with a few rudimentary privacy filters. As it is, I’m getting more and more uneasy every time I check in.
-March 31, 2010
Nailed that, didn’t I? I would ultimately only last about a year and a half more on Facebook, even tangentially, because nothing it brought to the table was worth what it took off. And while I’m sure Twitter didn’t help with the shithole the 2010s were, it wasn’t a patch on how bad things would have been exposed to the Facebook firehose.
But then, go back and look at the alternatives. Heaven knows how much location info I’ve put into Foursquare in the last decade in the name of remembering where I’ve been. All my “private” conversations have been in Signal, which is far less likely to be acquired or go south on us quickly, but who knows? Facebook has never yet been contained, and now with the acquisition of Giphy they have a service integrated into almost everyone else’s chats or social media, which they intend in turn to integrate into…Instagram. The one social media service I don’t seem to be able to live without.
I’ve tried at diverse times. There have been things like app.net, Peach, micro.blog, Cocoon – all of which seem like the hottest new social network of the afternoon at launch time, but none of which get traction. In the modern era, the only truly reliable social network is the group chat – which in the modern era depends on WhatsApp or Signal or iMessage, which means getting people to download a new app or only having friends with iPhones or again being dragged into the orbit of Facebook, which is neither safe nor reliable. But then, everyone in the rest of the world is on WhatsApp…which Facebook bought without so much as a sniff from antitrust watchdogs, and which is central to their future strategy in a world where the “blue site” is toxic for anyone under 30 and lumped as the 21st century’s AOL by anyone under 60.
And the problem now is that anything you’re likely to use is a service. This isn’t like email, which is distributed and independent and where you can spin up your own server and interoperate with anyone else. Everything we use in the 21st century is a unitary service that can go down at a moment’s notice – as we have seen repeatedly with Slack or Instagram or Snapchat. Having your activity bound up in a service – not email, not a series of websites, not interleaved RSS feeds la micro.blog – basically means that someone else owns your data and you are at their mercy for the security and stability of the whole son of a bitch. Then again, if your email server goes down, you’re screwed. If Slack goes down, all of Silly Con Valley is screwed at once – but everything stops until it’s up.
And so we look at the Giphy thing again. If we had a real FTC and DOJ, none of this would be happening, but we don’t have haven’t had in some time. Facebook is buying a significant piece of the underpinnings of contemporary social media, and by doing so gaining entry into the systems of competitors in a way that they have openly leveraged in the past for competitive advantage (with their bullshit “VPN” apps). It’s not going to end well – and we’ve already proven that Facebook is a bad actor that tolerates other bad actors in the name of continued growth and profit.
At some point, the only solution left will be to nuke Menlo Park from orbit.