Facebook will kill every first born child, or something similar. Possibly.

Having misgivings about Facebook is a reasonably healthy state of affairs, but if you’re going to lay out the flaws of the social network behemoth and be taken seriously it’s probably better to engage in a rational discussion with the wed community, a la Adam Greenfield, than choose the Waaaaaggggh Facebook is Evil scattergun strategy adopted by Tom Hodgkinson in today’s Guardian. Any opening sentence of “I despise Facebook,” clearly isn’t going to give any credit to the subject of its attack.

That’s not to say all of Hodgkinson’s concerns and arguments aren’t valid, but they’re lost in the swarm of anger in the article. Jemima Kiss on the Guardian’s media desk calmly brushes aside a few of the more ridiculous strawmen, the worst of which are spawned from general ignorance about Facebook from a non-user’s point-of-view.

There are a few points I’d generally agree with: not being able to delete your profile (or having a hell of a job doing so) probably will be an issue when existing users start migrating elsewhere – that one may come back to bite Facebook at some point.

Having the US government able to request your details is also something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, although Google and Yahoo have been compliant with governments elsewhere, and there’s probably other examples that haven’t yet come to light. Yes, the nature of the data is very raw and uncomfortable for governments to be poking around and I’d rather they couldn’t, but Facebook is by no means the only internet company doing this.

The expectations of levels of privacy from other interests is a interesting question, and probably one worth its own blog posts/investigation. When signing up for the site, what level of privacy should you expect with the data you hand over, and where should the mining of data by other companies end and your own privacy rights stand? Its not clear, although on another level it’s not wildly different from the supermarket loyalty card. Or wearing a branded T-shirt. Neither of which apply to me, and I suspect a good proportion of the Facebook-users, and nor do I intend to become a brand ambassador on Facebook either. As for the public information, at risking of sounding like a broken record, if you’re not comfortable with it, don’t put it online.

The parts about Facebook’s board members are fascinating, although much of it is incongruous with the rest of the arguments.  There’s a lot of rich people out there who own companies, who are either loons or have unpleasant politics or both. Singling one out, no matter how successful the company, is meaningless. Yes, I’ve now learned something about Peter Thiel but I’m still struggling to see what the relevance is to the other attacks on Facebook.

Really Hodgkinson’s ire at Facebook seems to come down to a few things: it’s successful, it makes a lot of money, it’s popular, and he doesn’t like the politics of the owners. None of which work as convincing arguments for me. So Facebook makes money? It must be an uber-capitalist experiment, and every other dot com startup competing with it has no interest in doing the same, clearly.

If Hodgkinson has spent more time focusing on the limits of Facebook or the privacy issues his complaints may be worth listening to more. It’s a shame his rant around other areas distracts from this.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Facebook will either take over the world, or stay at the top of the pile for ever, although probably has more staying power than perhaps people will give it credit for.

Network is a verb its harder to define than those that surround other  successful sites on the internet: buy, search, mail/message, research, chat. Mention any of those verbs and you can immediately define them. But one person’s idea of networking is another’s antithesis. Me, I tend to skulk by the bar, drink in hand and somehow get into long conversations after a couple of drinks as opposed to work the room [1]. Which I why I think Facebook will struggle to retain users long-term (although quite when that long-term will kick in is anybody’s guess). In trying to cater for the needs of everybody, it’s spread itself too thin and stopped focusing on what it does, and could do well (and that WILL be the subject of another blog post).

Facebook is much like any other company. There are parts of the ethos you don’t agree with. There are complaints you can make about the product. There’s also something you like about the product, or else you wouldn’t return. And, in Facebook’s case, far from stifling human interaction, it promotes it.

Last week I met up with a friend I’d not properly caught up with for a while and went to see the new Coen Brothers film, neither or which would have happened had it not been for her Facebook status. Later this week, the student radio I used to be part of is having a reunion for old alumni, many of whom probably wouldn’t have been able to get an invite if it wasn’t for Facebook. A couple of offline groups have online Facebook presences, which has, in turn, enhanced the offline experience. And so on.

Although if Facebook has achieved nothing else, it’s shown me how to be quite good at Scrabble.

[1] And that’s also when the verb theory was first explained to me. While doing a good job of non-mingling and networking at a drinks event, I got chatting to Suw and Kevin from Strange Attactor, so this is really their view of Facebook, just being parroted here.


2 Responses to “Facebook will kill every first born child, or something similar. Possibly.”

  1. 1 Facebook (again): not impailing children or engaging in wanton pilage « Gary Andrews Trackback on January 17, 2008 at 5:08 pm

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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