Thursday, May 13, 2010

Leaving Facebook: Step 1

A while ago, I posted about how we need a universal protocol for web communications. The general idea is that you don't have to be a member of a particular website to subscribe to posts from that website. I could use whatever social communications app I want, but I could receive status updates, links, photos, etc. from my friends on Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest. It would work a lot like RSS feeds, but with more control over who is allowed to receive items, and more reply/comment functionality.

Well, nobody has invented my ideal system yet, but in the meantime, Facebook has faced some serious pushback about its privacy policy. It seems that people don't want their stuff to be public by default, and they don't like going through 8 different pages to keep it from happening. There are some options:
  • You can review your privacy settings, but you'll have to do this every time they change their policy, and I don't trust that this actually keeps information safe.
  • You can delete your Facebook account, and lose contact with everyone who only use FB to communicate. I have plenty of FB friends who I knew once, but probably wouldn't miss, if I lost contact with them, but this is still a worrisome option.
  • You can also quit FB without actually quitting, kind of a cleaning house kind of deal. This involves creating a new FB account and re-friending those people who actually matter.
Well, I've decided to quit completely. I've been wanting to do this for a while, and now seems like a good time. I don't use any of the apps, and I really only use it for "stalking", which doesn't seem to be a good habit to keep. I haven't quit yet, but I've taken the first step toward doing so. Before I explain how, I need to explain how this fits in with my ideal communications system.

The problem is twofold:
  1. I want to be able to read other people's content (blogs, articles, shared links, status updates, etc.) in one place. I don't want to log into FB or Twitter or go to someone's website to get their stuff. I want it all in one place.
  2. I want to be able to spew content (blog entries, shared links with comments, status updates) to other people in a way they can read it easily.
RSS feeds are the solution. I can subscribe to my FB timeline, my Twitter timeline, and all the other content that is important to me, and read it in Google Reader. From there, I can share content (links) with or without comments. Each of the ways I produce content are also available as feeds.

(If you haven't tried a feed reader yet, try it! If you don't want to use Google, there are lots of other web-based or desktop app options available. I like Google Reader because it integrates with my other Google services, and it can manage comment conversations between users. If you're more interested in the social features than the feed aggregation, you might also try Buzz.)

Here's the details:
That takes care of collecting content. For spewing content, I have three feeds:
  • My blog (you are here) contains original content from me. You can subscribe using the link at the bottom of the page.
  • My shared items are also shown in condensed form at the bottom of this page. The expanded version is available here, with an Atom feed link on the right.
  • I can post status update-type things right from Google Reader! They'll show up in my shared items list, linked above.
  • I also have the option of putting photos up using Picasa, but I haven't done that yet.
I know this actually makes my items completely public, not private. The point here is not to be private, but to have control over my own privacy. I know that these three feeds are public, so I won't do anything stupid with them, and I can decide who sees what. Using my Google contacts, I can group people and say, "friends get to see this" and "family gets to see this", but nobody else does, and so forth.

My next step is to purge Facebook friends. Sorry, I'm just not that social a person, and if I haven't had a face-to-face or email conversation with you in the last year, you probably won't make the cut. After a week or so, I'll probably remove a lot of information from my FB account, and then delete it altogether. Just a warning.

Then, I'll also delete my Twitter account, and subscribe to public Twitter feeds as necessary.


  1. Wait, how can you subscribe to your friends' Facebook status updates, notes, etc., if you've deleted your FB account? Those feeds aren't publicly viewable. They can't be.

  2. So what if we had short email conversations? Damn, I forgot seeing you in NYC. Nevermind.

  3. M, you're right, you can't. (You CAN shift to a new account with the minimum personal data and secure privacy settings, and subscribe.) But to wean myself, I've done that and started purging friends. The comment conversations don't come through the feed, and without them, the status updates are a lot less interesting. It's easier to believe I won't miss them (status updates, not friends).

    K, don't worry, you've made it to the top 40! Congratulations! Now you just have to get rid of that horrible username (hateguy).