How seriously to take the Facebook backlash.
The NYT, reporting last fall on an exodus of Facebook fans, found no shortage of "experts" declaring the social-networking site to be past its prime. And that was before the new trend of "unfriending," editing out former Facebook sharers of secrets and BBQ rituals.
But that culling of the herd seemed to me a natural progression, indeed a sign of commitment on the part of Facebook loyalists who, like the rest of us, take the trouble to similarly edit our e-mail and other address books. If Facebookers were quitting, why bother disposing of "unfriends" from those early days when the initial befriending was not especially disciplined? (And how could it be, when you didn't know how an online friend would behave?)
In light of the premature reports of Facebook's imminent demise, a prescient Guardian analysis from last fall of the "Facebook fade" by Phoebe Connelly seems worth reviewing, to distinguish Facebook's real from its passing problems:
Quitting an online space because it no longer has cache isn't new...Friendster, LiveJournal, GeoCities – the list of used-to-be-popular places is endless. Before Facebook became uncool, it was MySpace – launched a year before its rival – that commentators were rushing to declare "over"...
But regardless of what cool actually means, the big brother and corporate control concerns are real ones. When corporations own online spaces, users do not always have a say in the ways their online socialising is used. Facebook faced the same uproar as Yahoo when it similarly announced a change to its terms of service this past February , giving it greater control over user-content (it quickly reversed the changes).
The profit being made by these corporations is dependent on user participation – the updating of status messages, the tagging of photos, and the writing on walls. And while those polled by Heffernan are largely concerned about the privacy issues of having their social interactions indexed and archived, the less-noticed threat is that by housing our memories and data in the cloud, we risk loss just as much as we do when we toss the negatives and stick our photos in a box.
This week's Gmail outage – when users lost access to their email for nearly two hours – was yet another reminder that entrusting your data to the internet is no guarantee that you, or anyone else, will always be able to access it.