Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Facebook or Not to Facebook

So it seems like more and more people are on Facebook these days. (And migrating away from MySpace, thank goodness.) In the past, I'd never really felt the need or desire to have a Facebook account. I mean, I already have this blog, in which I talk about what's going on in my life (when I remember to write in it), and I in turn, follow the blogs of my friends and family.

Except... a lot of them seem to be migrating to Facebook as well. My wife is on Facebook, and some of her friends there are people she met through me. Recently, she showed me some of the people that they're connected to, and I found several family members and a lot of old friends from high school.

And on top of that, my mother is now on Facebook. When I learned that, my brain needed a few seconds to overcome the cognitive dissonance. Mom's on Facebook, and I'm not. I work in the computer industry, and my mother is more wired, more down with the social media thang, than me. You turn your back for one minute, and the world goes upside-down on you.

So that's the question before me: should I break down and get a Facebook account? I don't know. Maybe those of you who have one can give me your opinion. Here are the pros and cons, as I see it:

PRO: Facebook would let me restrict what I write to just family and friends.

Everything I write here is out in the open. I'd prefer the discussion with family and friends be a bit more closed. Facebook would keep my updates within my circle of friends and family, and easily brings their updates to me.

PRO: Facebook would help me reconnect with old friends.

I'd love to find out what those pals of mine are up to these days. It's apparent from one glance at my wife's profile that Facebook would definitely help with that. And unlike a blog, I could initiate what would become a two-way connection, instead of me just blasting updates out into the ether and wondering whether it would ever cross the eyes of some of those old friends.

CON: Facebook seems oriented towards “stream-of-conciousness” posting.

From what I understand, there isn't a blog feature. Instead, there's the wall, which seems to be a stream-of-consciousness affair, kind of like Twitter, except that your friends posts and reactions are interwoven into the flow. The thing is, I don't think that I'm fascinating enough for anyone to be interested in my consciousness stream. I feel like I need to put some thought into it before I could expect anyone to bother reading it. That usually translates into less frequent posting, but when I do post, it tends to be at least a couple of paragraphs and about something other than what I ate for lunch. But do people want a multiple-paragraph entry on their wall, amongst all the one-liners?

CON: What about the other topics?

Facebook's ability to restrict the audience works against me when I want to talk about something more that just updates. This blog is pulling double-duty: not only to I give family updates here, but I also write about other things. And unlike the updates, I want people I don't know to come and read those posts. Sometimes I will write something and someone just shows up out of the ether and posts a reply, which is gratifying. I want some of my writing to be public, and some to be restricted to my friends. Facebook doesn't seem to make this very easy. And is Facebook really the kind of place for that more public writing, anyway? Would it be worth the trouble to keep a blog separate from Facebook just for that kind of thing?

PRO and CON: Applications

The applications seem like a powerful way to extend Facebook, and things like photo-sharing are nice. However, it seems like most of them are pretty frivolous, and worse, they insist on spamming your friends about your activity in them. I'm not particularly interested in keeping up with how much time anyone is wasting feeding nonexistent pets or throwing nonexistent snowballs. I know that you can block an application, but I'd personally prefer that all applications be blocked by default, and then have the opportunity to unblock ones that I actually find useful.

CON: Loss of control

It seems that you don't have total control over what appears on your page: your contacts show up and scribble all over it, with their profile photo next to it. This is fine when you're reasonably certain that all your contacts will behave in a gentlemanly or ladylike fashion. But sometimes there's someone out there with whom you'd like to keep in touch, but they don't exactly show much discretion in what they post. I know at least one person where this would be the case. It's bad enough to deal with that yourself, much less exposing my family and friends to it whenever they view my wall. I don't know, maybe I'd just have resort to holding my Facebook friendship with them hostage until they clean up their act. That brings me to the final point...

CON: The perceived offense of not “friending”

So say I decide, for whatever reason, that I don't want to accept a “friend” request from someone. If the request is from a stranger, no big deal; I couldn't care less what they think. But if it's from someone that I know, turning down the request can have undesirable consequences. They may want an explanation. The reasons could range from “You seem nice, but I don't know you well enough to say that you're a friend,” to “Sure, you're a relative/friend, but you don't exercise proper discretion with your online behavior and I don't want to expose my friends to that,” all the way to “I'm actually trying to reduce contact with you, thanks.” I could deal with this, certainly, but it's not been something that I had to be concerned with up until now.

So what do you think? Should I make the leap?