Other Places, Other Perspectives
Facebook: Not A Fan

It's easy to list things not to like about Facebook.

The overbearing and often deceptive attitude toward privacy.

The superficiality of most of the content. Wow, other people's vacation pictures! Break out the popcorn!

The enforced conformity to a bland and boring layout. 100 million web pages that all look exactly identical!

The delays waiting for every other page in the web universe to load, while Facebook ties up your browser hoovering up data about what sites you're visiting.

The insistence on overflowing your email box with spam every time someone whom you barely know posts a picture of someone else whom you've never even heard of. Yes, I know, it's theoretically possible to turn that off. But that would require navigating their marvellously obfuscated preferences settings, which would take time away from more interesting pursuits, such as watching the cat lick itself.

These are all perfectly good reasons to stay as far away as possible from the wretched thing, and I try to. It's nearly impossible to avoid having a Facebook page, if you want clients and long-lost friends to be able to find you. But you can -- and I do -- use it simply as a jumping off place, a link to my own site where I am actually allowed to make my own decisions about what I want displayed, and how.

But what offends me the most about Facebook is not these operational annoyances, however off-putting they may be.

What really bothers me is the "Like" buttons.

Think about it. The biggest social network graph every conceived, on which every person not living in a mud hut is a node. If you aren't on it, you don't exist, for practical purposes. An information resource so pervasive that companies running expensive Super Bowl ads show their Facebook addresses in preference to their own web sites.

And the whole thing is organized based on how many people "Like" someone else's stuff?

What is this, junior high school? "Mom! The other kids don't like me!!"

There are a lot of potentially quite interesting things that you can do with social networks. See, e.g., Duncan Watts' fascinating book Six Degrees. So, why don't we spend, oh, say, 100 billion simoleons or so, and construct the social graph of pretty much the entire planet, and for a really interesting and useful topology, we'll determine the connection weights by -- who "likes" whom? Can anyone think of a more trivial metric?

All of this institutionalized shallowness would be offensive enough if it were spontaneous, but of course it isn't, not at all. If you're a true social networker, you certainly can't wait around for your fans to "like" you when they get around to it. That would never do. Everywhere you go on the web, everything you read, there will be a plea for you to "like" whatever it is. And if wherever it is has your email address, you'll probably get an email, or multiple emails, "please, please, "like" me".

Well, sorry. Call me a cranky old curmudgeon (no button for that, fortunately), but the fact is, I don't actually "like" every damn thing I see. In fact, there are quite a few things (Facebook, for example), that I pretty much don't like at all. I guess, in today's world where "competent" or "truthful" don't matter as long as you're "upbeat" so that everyone will "like" you, I'm probably way out of step. But in case of needing surgery, I would still prefer a "skillful" surgeon to a "likeable" one.

How about it, Facebook? Is this the best we can do? The social network as a massive popularity contest?


Copyright 2011-12 Jack S. Emery. License is freely given to reproduce site content provided authorship is acknowledged and URL or link to the source page are prominently displayed.