Goodbye, Facebook

If you’re an eager follower of Facebook, you’ll probably have noticed that there have been no recent updates from me. That’s right; I’ve been purged out of Facebook. I’ve toyed with the idea of uploading a fake ID card just to see what their reaction would be, or, failing that, to join any of the several class-action suits against Facebook’s policies on disabling accounts, but, at the end of the day, why should I bother? I joined Google +1 instead.

Sure, like many who were “threatened” to get their account removed, I’ve added a page for my profile on Facebook. Facebook Pages, however, are seriously limited in functionality. And what functionality matters? The ability to integrate with other social platforms — games, blogs, and so forth. Only the most recent applications will allow you to register and login with a “Facebook Page” instead of a true Facebook account; it’s true that Facebook is threatening to deprecate the old API (which only accepts true FB usernames) and favour the new one (which apparently allows Pages too), but this is messy and will take a long time to be universally supported. You cannot join any applications/games, and if there is a way to join groups and participate in questions/answers (some of them are quite inspiring areas of debate), I have yet to find them. “Likes” will show your real name, unless there is a hidden option somewhere to make that disappear. So Facebook Pages are second-rate citizens of Facebook: you’re allowed to get a taste of all the fun, but you’re not entitled not even close to the full range of options.

Well, Facebook is a free service, and under US law, they’re entitled to set the terms and conditions they like, and nobody can complain about that. Talk about customer rights! The customer has the right to remain silent — that’s pretty much the only right you have (note that Linden Lab has a similar policy for deleting accounts without giving a reason). My only complaint here is that I’ve registered with Facebook under different terms of service: in the olden days of Facebook glory, when it was merely a rich start-up not making any profit but burning venture capital and speculating with the Russian Mafia, Facebook allowed artistic and literary pseudonyms and somehow even encouraged “celebrities” to set up their accounts there. Now that Zuckerberg finally owns a profitable company, he delegated all that to “Facebook Pages” and changed the terms of service, giving you just the option to leave.

The right to change terms of service is a complex legal issue, at least in my jurisdiction. Of course you can change terms of service if local legislation changes (that sort of forces terms of services to change), or to protect consumers’ rights better, or to somehow address illegal activity which was overseen on the original terms of service. For instance, terminating accounts that just have pornography might be illegal, if the site accepts registrations from minors; adding a clause on the terms of service to forbid pornography (or to limit access to adults) is reasonable.

Requiring an ID card to access the service — when originally it was not a requirement — is a different story. I suppose that I would understand that they required some sort of validation; that’s all right, I have a Mastercard on the name of “Gwyneth Llewelyn”, which is perfectly valid, legitimate, and is accepted anywhere in the world. But I cannot change my ID card that easily, even though it’s mostly a bureaucratic formality (then again, in my country, there are restrictions in the kind of names you can pick; I cannot change my name to a clearly non-Portuguese name; other countries, like Brazil for instance, have no such restrictions). And of course I’m not really interested in changing my ID card and all my RL documents just to be subject to a whim of Zuckerberg; Facebook’s not that important.

You can register with your real name and then change it to whatever you wish; there is an option for that, hidden in the settings. But Zuckerberg’s minions warn you that if your profile name is too different from your real name, they will also terminate the account without warning.

Given the limited range of options, and having no money to bring up a new class-action lawsuit against Facebook’s unreasonable change of terms of service for long-term users who had registered under different terms, I think it’s pointless to stick to it any longer. My only reason for still using my Facebook account was to add the occasional comment and to play Dovogame’s Business Tycoon Online; I’m now in the process of moving my player account there out of Facebook and converted to a normal, email-based account instead 🙂

So, why the fuss? To be honest, there is just one thing that I will seriously miss: integration. Facebook’s APIs are possibly not the best out there, but they work rather well. They allow a lot of functionality to cross social sites (no wonder; this will make people return to Facebook and see more ads that way…); they allow easily to add comments, “likes”, and whatever on all Facebook-enabled sites, and make that insanely easy. If you’re logged in to Facebook on one tab in your web browser, you can easily access all that functionality and not even think twice about it. Integration is for me the cornerstone of the technological success of Facebook — socially, it’s not a terribly good application, for several reasons I’ve stated on my previous articles. Sharing things is not as easy as it could be; chat is even more limited than Google Chat; only recently you were able to add videos to share, and only recently photo albums became more-or-the-less useful, but there are way better integrated applications than that (the decade-or-so old Orkut, bought by Google a few years back, does integration far more easily, and it’s perhaps not even the best example out there). So Facebook by itself is only interesting for journalists and people with a lot of free time in their hands (and the more time passes, the more I’m convinced about that truism); while the Facebook API, with its relatively powerful integration tools, is definitely a fantastic achievement that links so many things together, and in spite of some quirks and flaws, it certainly works. The “Like” button was definitely an innovation (I’m prepared to admit that similar things existed before “Like” — e.g. Digging articles, tagging them on, and so forth — but none have had the impact that Facebook Like have) and one that I’m sorry to lose access to. I’ll have to stick to Google’s +1 and see how it competes.

Ironically, Google competes with Facebook on the same market — both exist to sell ads — but they have completely different approaches to how they deal with privacy issues. Google’s employees at least are paranoid about security and privacy — while allowing people to use their services how they wish. Facebook, on the opposite scale of the privacy spectrum, is so maniac about selling good-quality profiling data that they restrict the usage of their service more and more. The battle for selling ads is on, and it’s not clear who is going to win it: the closed model of Facebook or the open model of Google. I would bet on the latter, but Larry Page is an unknown wildcard, and we don’t know how Google will evolve…

In any case, all this encouraged me to develop a social sharing website tightly-integrated with Second Life 🙂 To be honest, 99.9% of it is based on WordPress; the remaining 0.1% is the missing link between SL and the external Website, and I’m still doing my finishing touches. No, I’m not really going to “compete” with the myriads of already-existing social networking sites for SL: I’m just developing a small and simple prototype to make a proof of concept. 🙂 More on that later…

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