I'm Andrew. I write about the past and future of tech, music, media, culture, art, and activism. This is my blog.

Why Are You Still on Facebook?

Posted: March 16, 2017

You know what Social Networks are. You know what they do. You know that they suck.

Have you ever stopped to consider why they suck? I can think of a few reasons:

  • We are the product, the advertisers are the customer
  • They are impersonal, enabling people to hide behind their keyboards while spewing toxic filth

Social Networks serve two key purposes:

1) They are a great method for quickly disseminating (mis)information.

When done right, information (art, music, etc.) can spread through social networks at an unbelievable pace. This comes at a cost, though. Stories shared through social networks are often poorly sourced, if they are sourced at all. “Copy/past Don’t share” is a great way to add authenticity to a message while also obscuring its origin.

Before the dawn of social networking, if you wanted to share your opinion on a topic you made a blog post (like this one) and published it through a website you controlled (or, later, through a blogging service.) Folks didn’t have to go to your blog to read it, either. Most/all blogging services used RSS for syndication. Syndication gave you a feed (like facebook’s news feed) of all the new posts from all the sources you care about.

This tied the news/opinion to an identity, and gave multiple people a single reference point for sharing that content. These blogs had (have!) all kinds of features that Facebook can’t compete with. (Syndication! Moderated Comments! Communities! Reputations!)

Blogging is still the most effective way to share information on the internet (and you don’t have to worry about whether Facebook’s algorithm will bubble up your post for enough people.)

Even quick Linksharing and Microblogging is more effective on a blogging platform (and an RSS reader) than on facebook. (I’ll be talking about this again in the future, with a step-by-step walkthrough on freeing yourself from facebook for information sharing/content consumption. Subscribe to my newsletter or my RSS feed, so you can be sure not to miss it.)

So, if sharing information and spreading content is easier, better, and more effective through other means, and Facebook is mining your data, and selling it to other people, why are you still using facebook?

2) As of right now, Social sites are the best way for communities to interact with one another.

I don’t know about you, but this is the only reason I’m still using facebook.

Back in the mid 90s and early 00s (before the dawn of modern social networks), it was via Message Boards, newsgroups, and Mailing Lists (and these still exist, to some extent) as well as personal blogs. These days, though, a community doesn’t exist if it isn’t on facebook.

In my opinion Communities are the magic that makes social networks worthwhile. Sometimes these communities are built around a shared interest (I’ve made good friends through Atlanta Vinyl Collectors) sometimes it’s people you went to school with, family, work colleagues. Heck, my apartment complex runs a pretty bustling social network for residents.

The fact is that Social Networks are at their most useful as centers for community interaction and engagement.

What can we do?

We can fucking leave. That’s what we can do.

I build weird stuff, and let it loose on the internet. Recently, I have made my focus a project called Of Many Trades. It’s a “Community Server”, which is like a Social Network (on the surface sat least) but different in a couple of key respects:

1) It’s a single computer, that lots of people can use at the same time (rather than a massive network of many computers.) This limits the number of people who are using the system at any one time to less than ~500.

2) I control it. The whole thing. A bunch of the software was written by me. The rest of it is open source.

3) It’s a community center, and a supportive one. Toxicity and vitriol have no place here, and our users help us keep it that way.

4) Everything is super DIY, and most of it is just barely functional. (Which is not to say it doesn’t work! It does, but only just.)

Of Many Trades was inspired by Tildeclub. It’s still young, and it’s still growing. Right now, it has private messaging, public messaging, a global social stream, some games (from the 70s), and a bunch of other stuff.

Right now, it’s just one box with a few dozen people. It’s a weird corner of the internet. But it’s built on open technology. Anyone can build their own. That’s the beauty of open standards (like RSS/ATOM, eMail, and NNTP.) We can have a million little community servers, and have people interacting within them and between them. They don’t all have to be the same, they don’t all have to use the same software. We don’t have to accept fake-news and datamining.

(The tools to do all this have been around for YEARS. NNTP is older than the internet. Problem is, there’s no money in an open internet. We need non-capitalist software. )

I’m working on some tools for blogging, microblogging, and linksharing. Eventually, there will be a Github repository with all of that code. They should be trickling out over the next few weeks

(I’m also working on an article about using existing tools for these activities. Sign up for my newsletter, or subscribe to my RSS feed to stay up to date on those.)

Of Many Trades isn’t designed to be everyone’s replacement to facebook. It’s designed to be anyone’s replacement to facebook.

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