Internet

The Strategy of "Exit"

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Cory Doctorow predicts Facebook's demise:

In the real world, we don't articulate our social networks. Imagine how creepy it would be to wander into a co-worker's cubicle and discover the wall covered with tiny photos of everyone in the office, ranked by "friend" and "foe," with the top eight friends elevated to a small shrine decorated with Post-It roses and hearts. And yet, there's an undeniable attraction to corralling all your friends and friendly acquaintances, charting them and their relationship to you….

You'd think that Facebook would be the perfect tool for handling all this. It's not. For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there's a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I'd cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, "Am I your friend?" yes or no, this instant, please.

It's not just Facebook and it's not just me. Every "social networking service" has had this problem and every user I've spoken to has been frustrated by it. I think that's why these services are so volatile: why we're so willing to flee from Friendster and into MySpace's loving arms; from MySpace to Facebook. It's socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list—but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who'll groan and wonder why we're dumb enough to think that we're pals).

That's why I don't worry about Facebook taking over the net. As more users flock to it, the chances that the person who precipitates your exodus will find you increases. Once that happens, poof, away you go—and Facebook joins SixDegrees, Friendster and their pals on the scrapheap of net.history.

NEXT: Speak, Romney

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  1. Maybe Slashdot has the superior system? Just a list of friends/foes/freaks/fans and nobody has approval authority over anybody else.

  2. A bold prediction!

    Next for Mr. Doctorow: DVD players will not always be the preferred choice of home movie viewers.

  3. facebook is on top now because it is the best service, and had its start in colleges, where it cultivated a superior foundation of meaningful social interaction.

    being friends on facebook with someone who you don’t particularly like is not that big of a deal. Certainly not big enough to cause a massive shift of users to another service.

  4. discover the wall covered with tiny photos of everyone in the office, ranked by “friend” and “foe,” with the top eight friends elevated to a small shrine decorated with Post-It roses and hearts

    Uh, this is a feature of MySpace, not Facebook. It can be if you install a widget specifically for it. And I’ve never seen anything with a list of friends ranked.

  5. I have a solution: interact with real people in meatspace and forget about Facebook. Problem solved.

    I am absolutely not poo-pooing the greatness of the internet and its capability to connect people but I fucking hate social networking sites (unless I develop the next big one, which I really should). There is something inherently narcissistic about the “look at MEEEE” and “I shall rank my ‘friends'” aspects of these sites that really turns me off.

  6. All of that said, I think facebook is getting very close to it’s peak of cultural relevance. The fact that it keeps making moves that alienate its users, every attempt to monetize it is being actively resisted by its users and the tin ear and utter cluelessness of its management point to the beginning of the end.

    Disclosure: I’ve been a member of facebook from the days when it way only for people with .edu email addresses.

  7. And I thought Facebook’s demise would come when people realized the “poking” “vampire/zombie wars” “digital gifts” and all the other toys were just really annoying. So is being informed how ridiculous you grown friends are for wasting so much time fiddling with the Facebook toys.

    My wife was invited onto Facebook by a friend (they are both pushing 40) and by the time she had been poked a couple of dozen times, set-upon by vapires, (“Jack’s Zombie Mogul won 4 points by serving a bowl of pain to Jill’s Mistress Vampire! The pain was brought. So was the funk.”) she pretty much gave up.

  8. Just so everybody knows, Cory is a total drama queen. I beat him up once a month tops in seventh grade.

  9. Meanwhile, as the exception which proves the rule, LinkedIn has invitations and approvals, but there’s not so much emotional content riding on the result.

  10. There is something inherently narcissistic about the “look at MEEEE”…

    And that goes beyond social networking sites. Blogs too (at least most of them) are part of the big Show and Tell For Big Kids that is the internet. I don’t think many people are interesting enough to warrant a website.

  11. Yeah, but what better way to get your very own sleazy VH1 “reality” dating show?

  12. Mo: me too (as far as the .edu address exclusivity of facebook goes).
    It’s useful for finding out things about your acquaintences that you would never ask them.

    I see it as just yet one more tier of communication.

    From most personal to least personal:

    Actually visiting someone
    Calling
    Sending a letter in the mail
    Sending a text message
    Sending an email
    Sending an IM
    Posting on someone’s “wall” on Facebook
    “Poking” someone on Facebook.

    For real though, First Little Pig, I find when people do stuff like throw gingerbread men at me and stuff through “superpoke” or whatever extremely annoying.

  13. I’ve only recently branched into the sticky pool of MySpace and Facebook. I’ve been a LiveJournal user for years for two very great reasons: Its about communication primarily with words, and it lacks all the kewtsie-pie crapola that I’ve loathed about the other two big boys of social networking. After being on both for several months I’m leaning heavily towards dumping Facebook altogether simply because I cannot see a reason to waste time there. As impenetrable and annoying as MySpace can be, at least there is a level of communication between those little thumbnailed friends.

  14. How old is Cory Doctorow? This sounds like something that my mother, who is in her mid-50s, would write. Doesn’t sound to me like Cory really “gets” Facebook.

  15. It’s email with pictures. Nothing more.

  16. By the way, what’s the Facebook etiquette for dealing with a “friend” request from somebody you’ve never heard of? I see the “accept” and “reject” options, but can’t find the “who the devil ARE you?” button to click.

  17. I only have a myspace account for the sole reason of background checks for employees. linkedin actually provides a useful service in that networking is a vital way of getting new business and jobs and seeing where people go to.

    Facebook allows you to poke someone. Yippi!

  18. I was one of the first to join both MySpace and Facebook, and now rarely even look at them. Why?

    I realized right away that there was a reason I lost contact with so many people: They’re fucking lame!

    That, and I’m sick of people asking me to rehash the last four years of my life, what I’m doing now, and why I became an expat. I do, however, take great pleasure in witnessing the mediocrity of people who were dicks to me.

  19. Hey Terrorific! Long time no see! Whatcha been up to? How’s the job, etc? Why the heck heck did you move?

    CU L8er, brah!

  20. It’s socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list — but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war.

    Yeah, this is why, in the pre-Internet era, I changed my phone number every few months instead of telling assholes simply not to call me.

  21. [whisper to destijl]
    Does Terrorific still do that, you know, thing he used to do in school? OMG! destijl – what happened to your face!

    Franklin – how come you never return my calls? Don’t you like my messages with the funny voices?

  22. >destijl and VM

    SUPERPOKE!

  23. Yes, again, this doesn’t seem like the most groundbreaking prediction that something that’s hot now will eventually get replaced.

    It doesn’t account for other factors though, like the fact that Friendster mainly lost it’s top spot due to the fact that its technology didn’t scale. So after too many users signed up the site became painfully slow.

  24. Jennifer,
    If the person is hot or cool looking, just add them anyway. It will increase your street cred. If they look like a loser, hit “reject”. I tend to agree with the “email with pictures” summary of what Facebook is all about. And I think that’s where future trouble might lie. They resize your pictures to such a low resolution and quality that they look like they were taken with a cell phone.

  25. It’s useful for finding out things about your acquaintences that you would never ask them.

    Right. Look, I hate myspace as much as any intelligent person, but it has its value. Like, for example, the other night I met this girl at a bar, got her number and her myspace. Later I’m trying to decide whether she’s worth calling or not. I check out her myspace and notice that she lists her orientation as “bi” so I knocked over and broke my lamp trying to grab the phone. Tried that with another girl I had met, read something about her “relationship with Jesus”, and saved myself at least the cost of a first date.

  26. …or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad…

    You’d think someone who dropped out of college four times after short stints might avoid such an analogy. Maybe not.

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