Here’s a controversial thought: social media isn’t all too bad! There’s lots of talk about how bad different social media services are these days. Twitter supports harassment, Nazis and some weirdo called „Trump“. Facebook collects every tiny bit of your life and sells it to the devil, and then there’s Google+ (wait… what?!). Everybody knows that the way these social networks evolved during the last decade is a disaster for all the known and obvious reasons that were already discussed everywhere and all the time.
But here’s the thing: social networks used to bring people together. There was a time where collecting data and selling it, was not an issue. Yes, we were blind and didn’t really know what’s going on until it was too late, but it connected people in a way that we didn’t know before. I’m going to focus on Facebook here, because it is a real pain point for me and Twitter is easily replaceable (see Micro.blog for example).
When I started to use Facebook back in 2006 it was a great place to be. I studied abroad during that time and Facebook was the way to stay in touch with the ones who went back home, or to organize the weekly (ok, daily) party with your friends. People shared photos of what they were doing, checked into places they traveled to, friends wrote you updates about what’s going on in their lives. Yes, there was the obligatory „Poopin’!“ post every once in a while, but in general – at least to me – it was a really great experience.
Fast forward 12 years. What’s the experience today at Facebook? Hardly anyone of my friends posts anything anymore. I see an infinite amount of updates from sports teams, music groups or talk shows. There’s creepy ads all over the place. The timeline is no timeline anymore… posts from a week ago are mixed with ones from today. I never know whether someone actually posted something, or whether I missed it because the AI thinks it knows better than me what I want to see.
Yes, Facebook, right now I want to see a post of my soccer team asking for fan support in this really important game yesterday, but please to not show me how the team reacted to the fact that they won… yesterday.
It’s not fun anymore, and the staying in touch part is also not that apparent since quite some time. The part of Facebook with actual people sharing more or less important things of their life has long vanished. Almost nobody ever does that anymore, and this is sad. It was a great way to stay in contact and this is gone now. I don’t need Facebook anymore. I don’t want Facebook anymore. I want to own my stuff and I don’t want it to be exploited in all possible ways, like it is right now. But what’s the solution? What should I share, where, when and why? Do I really want to share everything publicly? Spoiler alert: I don’t. But what are the options then? Let’s have a look at my web-presence at the moment:
- I have this blog, where I want to publicly write longer pieces like this one
- I’m on micro.blog where I publicly post shorter snippets to my own domain at hutaffe.blog and which replaces Twitter for me
- I’m on Twitter, but who cares
- I’m on Google+… seriously… I still think this is hilarious!
- I’m on Facebook where I share more ore less private stuff with my friends
- No, I’m not really on Instagram. (The way their „timeline“ is sorted is an abomination even worse than Twitter)
Let’s go through this list: A blog is public. To everyone. Everything I post here is accessible to anyone on the interwebs. Whatever is posted here or on micro.blog needs to be polished in some way and put me in a certain light. (I wrote about my rules in a previous post). For the things I share on Facebook I don‘t necessarily want that! Sharing most of the photos I‘d like to share is impossible on a public place like my blog. I don’t want the whole world to be able to see important parts of my life. Why should they care? I can express my thoughts, ideas and opinions freely on the web. Everyone can read it (sorry about that!). But photos of my daughter? No.
When sharing private content, owning it is even more important. When sharing my content on Facebook, it gets dumped into a black hole of algorithms with the only goal to squeeze every little piece of information out of my life and sell it to some company. I want to post all this stuff to my blog, where I decide what happens with the data and where I decide who is going to see it.
I want to keep my privacy and the privacy of the ones that are visible on my pictures or tagged locations. I like the principal idea of Facebook. I like the principal idea of Twitter. And I like the principal idea of blogging and microblogging. Micro.blog is Twitter’s microblogging, social network and normal blogging combined. I love the open idea and implementation of the service and I will continue to use it because it‘s everything that was missing on Twitter and what was in parts forgotten with blogging. What I‘m missing is the privacy aspect. There needs to be a way to have a blog, yet keep parts of it private to friends. Without the hassle of password protection or special RSS feeds that nobody understands. The simplicity and privacy of Facebook – I realize the controversy, but I mean the sharing part, not the creepy corporate part. The stuff that brought me and my friends to this platform more than 10 years ago, combined with the openness and ownership of a public blog.
I want my friends from far away, on the other side of the world, 12 time zones ahead of me, to be part of my life and vice versa. I don’t necessarily want to bother them on iMessage or make them join a Slack team or whatever nerdy tools and services might fit. I could make them users on my site or offer an email newsletter or something similar. But… seriously? Nobody will jump through these hoops just to get a “Poopin’“ from me every now and then.
A mixture of both worlds… The openness and inherent values of Micro.blog, combined with a privacy control and social features like we have on Facebook. Facebook is easy. Of course they sell the hell out of my information. But the short sighted value is that only the people I want are able to see what I share with them. If I apply for a job, I control what the recruiter sees on my Facebook profile: nothing. What will they see on my public blog? Probably a curated list of posts that I publish here in order to sell me. What will friends see on my public blog? The same; and less. How do I make sure to stay in contact with my friends in Japan or California? How will I know what’s going on in their lives? Public blogs are the wrong place for this. It needs privacy! I want to share my life with them on my site, but I want only them to see it.
At the moment my friends don’t get many updates of my life, because I don’t post any relevant information on Facebook anymore. Whether or not they actually would want any updates is a totally different issue, of course 😉 And this blog is not Facebook. At the moment they could follow me on Micro.blog or subscribe to my RSS feed. But they wouldn’t know or understand what that means and they won‘t find anything interesting to them here in that regards, because I won’t share photos of my daughter with the public or the location of the concert I’m going to and with whom I‘m there. Of course some of this stuff is stupid, I know that. But that’s everyday information friends like to see and which I would be happy to see again from them. And that’s the stuff I like to share with them because it makes us keep in touch and get back to each other every once in a while and not forget about each other.
I should be able to have a blog, be it a separate one like this site or Micro.blog, and still be able to have certain posts or even all of it only accessible to my friends. Whether Facebook is the authenticator to decide who is my friend and who’s not is a secondary issue at first. A more open service would be better of course, but people are on Facebook and this is not going to change in the near future, let’s face the sad truth. Since Facebook is not going to vanish, and I have my list of friends there, it might be an option – until something better comes along – to use this connection to define who’s going to see my private stuff on my website. If someone’s logged into Facebook, I would need to check if he or she is on my friend list. I doubt that this is technically possible, because this could probably be exploited in many bad ways, but this is what I would need at the moment.
I’d rather have all this also built on a more open platform, leaving Facebook out of the game. But let’s be honest: who’s going to switch anyways. We can all leave Facebook and Twitter for noble reasons because the platforms are creepy, dishonest and horrible places to spend time on and to publish content to. We can leave them behind and get our news and open discussions elsewhere. But how will I be able to see the holiday pictures from the beach of my Japanese friends? How will I see photos of my friend’s newborn on the other side of the world? Despite Instagram et.al. most people do not share these personal things there. They share it on Facebook, because there is at least some control over who sees what and keeping it private, and it’s pretty easy to set this up. On a larger scale, basically nobody is going to post intimate stuff like this to the public. At least I know that I don’t want to. That’s also the reason why there will never ever be a photo of my daughter or friends and family or even myself posted on this blog. If there is a photo, it’s totally anonymous. It could be anyone in the picture. It might not even be me. Because it’s too public. To me, this is sensitive information and nobody I do not know personally has any right to see it, especially not the whole internet. I’m not a public person… what I share publicly is curated and (more or less) thought through.
I want to leave Facebook behind. But at the moment I can’t if I want to stay in contact with my friends. I have no real solution to this… but for me, this has to be the next step. I better make sure to have all the eMail addresses and phone numbers I need in my address book, because Facebook has no future for me no matter what. People were in contact before Facebook, so I’m pretty sure the world will move on without it and I will be able to catch up with everyone in some other form, just like generations before us did 🙃
After I wrote all this I learned about LiveJournal. I think I never heard of this before and from what I can tell it’s not that popular outside of Russia anymore. It seems like it has elements of what I’d like to have though. A blog with a detailed privacy mechanism. But what’s missing here as well is the openness. It’s a closed platform, my content is not where I want it to be: on my server.
And again… Facebook friends are at Facebook and won’t go anywhere else. The question is whether this will ever change and if it does, what will happen? I doubt that everyone will move in the same direction and if so, we’re moving the same problem from one platform to another. Where everybody will move needs to be part of the open web, yet be extremely easy and also support privacy mechanisms.
Should you know about some other service or tool that you think would help me with this, please tell me! There might be something like LiveJournal that I just did not see yet! You can fine me here: @hutaffe on micro.blog