Mar 312015
 

Every now and again, I get some invite to join some social network or to “Confirm I know ${PERSON}”.  It doesn’t really matter what platform you choose, the end result is the same.

There are a couple of reasons I do not participate on these systems.

Number one is that when I get home, I typically cannot be stuffed having much to do with computers.  Sure I’ll be checking what news has happened during the day, I have an RSS aggregator for that.  I’ll check what the weather is doing tomorrow (as a cyclist, this is of high importance).  I’ll check emails, as that is how I keep in touch with people (I know, how quaint, but it works).

Maybe check some public forums/newsgroups.  That’s about it.  I really cannot be stuffed doing much else having fought with computers all day, I’m really not in the mood when I get home.

Second reason is the nature of these social networks.  Much of the interaction happens behind the scenes.  You’re “sharing” to an audience behind closed doors.  That audience has to be a member of that same group to even see your material.  Don’t believe me?  Try to log into Facebook and then go “Friend” a Google+ user and share something with them.  Or how about go log into Google+ and “circle” (is that the term?) a Linked In user.  These new-breed “social” networks are about as anti-social as it gets.

They’re today’s bulletin board system.  I’m sorry, are we really abandoning the World Wide Web for what’s little more than a BBS?  About the only difference I see is that JavaScript and HTML5 replace the ANSI/DEC escape sequences of old.  It’s still an isolated silo from which your information is locked in and only those who have opted into that network can participate.

A forum can be publicly viewed in most cases, in fact forums generally have trouble attracting an audience if they’re not publicly visible.

Finally there’s the privacy.  Sharing what you’re doing in your day to day life is one thing.  You can share a lot without giving much away personally.  “Friend”-ing people however is basically uploading your social graph, one link at a time.  One’s social graph is one of the most personal things one can expose about themselves, and increasingly the privacy policies of these social networks have been found lacking in several aspects.

Companies have been working on sophisticated ways in order to search and map out these social graphs, they would not be doing this if there wasn’t financial incentive to do so.  Knowing who someone’s friends are is the first step in being able to manipulate that person.  I’d rather not be someone’s puppet.

There’s also the phishing risk.  They’re popular sites to try and spoof.  I recently received one alleging to be from The Register author Simon Rockman.  It could be authentic, but then again, anyone could sign up for an account on one of these social network, claim to be someone they’re not, and try to lure you in.  I’ve got no way of verifying this, and with a broken “Reply-to” header, in the bin it goes.

So, next time you think of putting my email address in to a form on a social network page to invite me to join, don’t bother.  I do respond to emails, I even respond to comments left here (unless they’re spam), but I will not respond to social network invites, in fact I may not even receive them.

May 312011
 

Without wishing to sound harsh, two words: Don’t bother. 🙂

There are a few reasons why I’m not on FaceBook…

Need

First and foremost, is a matter of need.

The primary reasons why someone would set up something on FaceBook is to enable their friends to be able to locate them on the Internet.  In my case, just about any search engine using either my real name, nickname, or callsign, will lead you in the right direction.  Even then, it isn’t hard for people to trade email addresses by out-of-band means, then pass a URL to a blog site that way.

Next is the keeping track of friends.  Again, plain old email is good for this… so is the telephone.  RSS is a pretty good broadcast mechanism for this purpose too, and guess what, most modern web browsers are able to subscribe to such feeds as Live Bookmarks.  This effectively means your web browser becomes the central switchboard by which you can keep track of what your friends are doing.

As for sharing photos… most blog hosting sites provide a means for uploading photos… a perfect way to share photos.

There’s actually bugger all that I consider worthwhile that can only be done via FaceBook.

Time

These days I’m very busy in my daily life… too busy to sit in front of a computer checking up on online friends.  When I’m at work, I’m at work… I’m not browsing the web for personal pleasure.  Looking up things like FaceBook would be wrong and immoral usage of my employer’s Internet bandwidth.  So I don’t do it.

I can’t very well check FaceBook whilst in transit for two reasons: (1) I ride a bicycle, and need to watch where I am going, and (2) I don’t have any mobile Internet service.  I am usually on the amateur radio bands somewhere whilst mobile, but (ignoring IRLP/EchoLink/Allstar Link/APRS/etc…) you won’t find me via the Internet.  I answer my mobile phone too, but only after pulling over (I need a moment to switch headset cables over).

At home, yes I could be on FaceBook… but I find plenty of other things to occupy my time.  That, and sometimes it’s good to not have anything to do occasionally.

Privacy

FaceBook is controlled by one company, and is a closed system.  Aside from a “we promise not to look”, there is nothing to stop them doing anything they like with the information you provide to the service.  Even if they don’t, who’s to say their system is completely secure?  Lots of people entrusted their credit card details to Sony… Ooopsie!

So what kind of information does one share on FaceBook?  Aside from your name, age… okay, not deeply personal… you set yourself up with that information.  Then what?

You start “friend”-ing people.  You start “like”-ing people and adding them to your list of friends.  You build up a social graph.  Graphs are a mathematical tool for representing relationships between objects.  In this case, the graph’s edges represent some connection (i.e. acquaintance, friend, lover, … etc.) between two people (represented as nodes).  And using all kinds of graph theory, it’s possible to deduce all kinds of personal information about you.

How dangerous is this?  You’re probably thinking… “So what?”  Mark Pesce gave a talk on this at linux.conf.au this year.  If you’ve got a bit of time to spare, you can watch the video of the presentation, or have a read of the full transcript.  In short, a big part of what we do can be explained by what people are doing around us… we have a tendency to mimic those around us.  Knowing the group one participates in, is a pretty good way for someone with ulterior motives to figure out ways in which to manipulate you.

Your social graph is probably one of the most personal things you can reveal.

Keeping in touch

In order to keep in touch, you actually don’t need FaceBook.  Good ol’e email does a pretty good job.  So do blogs.  In my case, I post a lot of what I’ve been up to on this site.  This site broadcasts a stream using a format called RSS.  Guess what, most web browsers today (Firefox 3.5+, Internet Explorer 7+, Chrome, recent Opera…etc) support this in the form of “Live Bookmarks”.  Or you can use an external news aggregator… there are plenty to choose from.

Then in your web browser, subscribe to the feed.  In Firefox 4.0, under Bookmarks, choose “Subscribe to this page”.  Earlier releases have a button that appears in the address bar you can click.  Likewise for other web browsers… in fact, often you’re looking for an icon like this:

RSS feed icon

RSS feed icon (Source: Wikipedia)

Look for an icon like that on your web browser, click it, and follow the prompts.  Voila, you can now track that person through your web browser.  No one else needs to know about it, no need to log in to an extra site, it’s quick and easy.  Need something web-based for when you’re not at home?  There are plenty of web-based agregators.

Ohh, and you can track more than just friends this way.  News websites, companies… all sorts of things can be monitored this way.

But I want to be your friend!!!

Are you going to tell me this wasn’t possible before FaceBook?   Friends didn’t exist before Mr Zuckerberg invented this web-based forum?  Have people forgotten the art of face-to-face contact?  You don’t need FaceBook to have friends.  Give the old-school method a try some day. 🙂