Breaking Up With Facebook

We had a good run, but I’m done. It’s not me, it’s you. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think it’s time to that we go our separate ways.

When I first heard of you back in 2006 or so, you were this whizzy new application that was focused primarily on connecting people on a given school campus. Then you started connecting campuses. Then, you opened yourself up and let just any old person sign up for an account.

I still wasn’t sure if you and I were a good match. I didn’t see much value, but folks I knew were signing up and it seemed like it might be a lark. So, late in 2008 I joined, promptly followed by lots of other folks I knew.

Originally, more than anything, you were where my kids went after MySpace became “not cool”, so after I convinced them to “Friend” me (btw, one of your more egregious sins was verbifying “Friend” – Poke was bad, too).

Back then you were a private company and hadn’t quite worked out your revenue model. I think we both knew that growth and a need to turn a profit would change you and it did.

In 2012 you went public. At that point you really needed to figure out how to return value to your investors and things started to change for me and for you.

Meanwhile, I managed to reconnect to a few folks which was nice. I also had opportunities to reconnect with folks, largely from high school, who I had not been in touch with largely because we really didn’t have any sort of relationship back then. And, it turns out that I had, for the most part, maintained relationships with the folks that I cared about without your help. So, in the end, you became a venue to keep track of folks that I was already keeping track of in other ways. You aggregated the communication, in a fashion, so maybe that was okay.

Meanwhile, it seemed that your fancy turned to currying favor with your advertisers and collecting the ad revenue that fueled your growth. It was in this time period that I finally started to realize what the plan was. You’d managed to gather 1.1 billion set of eyeballs under the guise of connecting them to folks who they’ve chosen to pay attention to and you then started using that captive audience to serve up advertising.

There was a period in 2013 where roughly half of my page, wherever I happened to view you, was taken up by “Things You Might Like”, but I didn’t.

I wasn’t there to view ANY advertisement and your advertisements kept my from viewing what I was actually there for, which was the folks I’d chosen to connect with.

Also during 2013 I started to notice that I would post things and no matter what settings we would fiddle with, my wife or my kids would not see the post. So, the folks I was most interested in seeing something, those with the very same last name, would not reliably see what I posted. “Clearly an error!”, I thought.

But, No. This was by design. As I poked around I found that you had been for some time applying algorithms that would choose to expose my post only to a subsection of the folks I’d connected with. Based on how much they interacted with my post (“Liked” it or commented on it), YOU, not me, would make a decision to then expose it to more folks on my timeline. Suddenly you became a filter, not a connection. And you making decisions that I had no control over.

From a control perspective, it’s easy to imagine a better system where I, as a user, would have control, maybe even down to the individual friend level, over how much of their stuff I want to see. My wife? My kids? My close friends? Yeah, I want to see anything they post. The person who I randomly connected with way back when who posts stuff I don’t care about that you seem to constantly put in my feed though I never interact with them? I can either unFriend or mute. That’s it.

But, that’s not the real issue, now is it? The real issue is that you’ve changed. Because you have a fiduciary responsibility to your stakeholders to return a profit, which means you need to favor the needs of the advertisers that pay the bills and provide the profit over the needs of the 1.1 billion users that make you interesting to advertisers in the first place. It became not about the users but about the profits and how to increase them, even at the cost of you continuing to provide your core value to your users.

We’re all grownups here. You gotta do what you gotta do. And I gotta do what I gotta do. And what I gotta do is realize that my main value to you is as a pair of consuming eye-balls and you want to control what it is that I see. I gotta decide if that’s a relationship that I’m okay with. And, you know what? I’m not. If I look at the positives (connecting with family and friends – with you in charge of how much of each I see) versus the negative (you in charge of how much of each I see, advertising that I don’t care about, videos playing automatically that I don’t want to see, security and privacy issues, etc), then I just don’t see this working out.

In old maritime days, if a ship was going to sink, often it was observed that the rats would start to abandon that ship, sometimes even before the people on the ship realized there was a problem. Tangentially, there was a recent report that said that young people are fleeing from Facebook. The largest group is the 13-17 crowd and growth amongst that group is down 25% since 2011. Now, it is not my intention to call teenagers “rats”, but as this was also the group that constituted much of the original growth of Facebook, prior to all the grownups jumping on, it is interesting that they are not flocking the way they used to. This seems to be due, in large part, to a segmentation or fracturing in social media, but the trend should be and probably is troubling to Facebook.

I don’t know whether the decrease represents a judgement on the part of the young that Facebook is no longer “cool” – very probably because all of their parents are on it – or whether they are responding to the increasing amount of crap and advertising they have to deal with and the lack of control over what they see on Facebook. Maybe it’s some of both. Maybe it’s the natural maturation curve that eventually (for the most part) did away with MySpace before it.

It might have sounded a bit facetious at the start when I said “It’s you, not me”, but it’s true, Facebook. You’ve changed. Your priorities are different and I don’t like where MY needs show up in the priority list. At that point I either accept you for who you are now or I walk away.

I think I choose to walk away. Buh-Bye.

Everyone else and anyone else who would like to say hello: Odds are you probably know how to track me down. My first name at (@) my last name dot org or my firstnamelastname at (@) gmail.com continue to work for that very late 90s and early 2000s tool called email. I can also be found on Google Plus (G+) or just give me a call.

Facebook: Good luck to you. It was a decent run. Seven years is pretty good in terms of technology and probably a lifetime in terms of social media. Maybe you’ll find the balance between meeting the needs of your users and meeting the needs of your shareholders. If you don’t I suspect you’ll still be around in a decade to help we elders try and connect with each other but the bulk of folks will probably have moved on to something else. Personally, I look forward to seeing what that is!