Facebook, or waste your time channel surfing

By | 2009-04-10

Have you ever feel how fast the time goes by when you do some channel surfing on TV? “I spend 2 hours in front of the TV, changing from one channel to another, and finally I’ve not seen anything at all”. I had this thought of “wasted time” while surfing on Facebook recently.

Fb, the origins
I logged in on Facebook some months ago, but I didn’t understand the meaning of the website at first. I came from social websites that focus on one thing, like Flickr (pictures) or Last.fm (music listened), so it was a bit weird to see a social website which end is the social relation itself, without a “theme”. Moreover the only friends you are supposed to have there (and to let them see your profile) are just the friends you currently have in Real Life, so basically Facebook aims to be a copy of Real Life society. So don’t expect new friends, just expect to see what your current Real Life friends are doing… but basically you can do so with other methods, like IM. I mean, when I use Internet, I don’t expect to see a mirror of Real Life, I expect to see different things, improved things… or just surf Wikipedia.

Fb, closed to foreigners
Another surprising thing is that your profile is private, a random net user can’t see it, unless he is your friend. This “closed” philosophy as default annoyed me. It could make sense, to keep your data from public. But coming from websites where you add content, mostly public (like photos in Flickr), and let the world see your stuff, this philosophy is at least paranoiac. Of course you can mark pictures as private in Flickr, and you can open your Facebook profile to everybody, but how many people do so? How many know how to do so? The default settings are the ones that show the website philosophy.

Fb, the false sense of security
Despite it claims for keeping your stuff away from foreign eyes, there are a lot of back-doors to overpass the private settings. The easiest one is just see Mr.X friends list, and look for one with open/visible profile, let’s say Ms.Y… then you can see pictures tagged with Ms. Y, even from the Mr.X picture sets… finally you get full access to Mr.X pictures. Another way is creating an application, using Facebook API: when somebody uses your fancy app, you can get FULL access to all his data, and can (for example) save it in your personal server. So you only need to create a small test app (“How freak are you?”) to harvest a lot of private data.

Fb, trying to create content
Of course in a social website without theme there will be less content created, and user will come back less often. Therefore Facebook staff have to help people to produce content, in order to induce other people to revisite the web often. One way is acting as an “aggregator” (gets content from other web2.0 places, like Flickr or del.icio.us, and publish again in user’s page). Other is creating an API to create applications. 3rd part developers come to create apps, salivating by the amount of possible users for their apps, and Facebook is happy to see more stuff in his system. I created a couple of Facebook apps and I can claim that their API is a torture. Basically they don’t let you use libraries, like jQuery, so you are forced to write old style code. Later you discover you can ignore it and create an iframe for your app… so that means your app is not a real Facebook app, just a nice Facebook frame that borders you website in your personal server.

Fb, a waste of time
So, I can guess that the 80~90% of produced or pseudo-produced content in your profile (or friends profile) is low quality. Do you really need to know that your old friend from school Harry loves chocolate? Nah!

Of course Facebook has good things: the content aggregator and a way to publish things neither short nor long in a fast way… but for such things you can use a better website, like Friendfeed.

3 thoughts on “Facebook, or waste your time channel surfing

  1. Bertu

    and these are some of the reasons why I deleted my account…!

  2. Rubén

    Alberto, I didn’t realize until now you no longer have an account. I don’t have really a lot of privacy issues (I don’t post almost anything I wouldn’t say in my own blog, so…), and I don’t really do any of those tests (just a few so far, and probably not more in the future), but I like being able to stay in touch with people I don’t usually IM (hey Julio! I don’t even have you in IM…). But I see your points, as they are a fair overview of all of it :/

  3. Bertu

    Well, I miss the ability to keep in touch with friends. But I kept wasting a lot of time with it. Had I not been trying to get a PhD I wouldn’t have minded (you’ll understand this, Rubén).

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