The front page of USA Today informs me this morning -- at my airport hotel in Calif, in Day 2 of waiting out the backlog of canceled flights back to Siberia-on-the-Potomac -- that people are turning away from some online social networks, Facebook in particular. This is because of privacy intrusions and, more fundamentally, the unwieldiness of "symmetric" social networks like Facebook's. My "actual" friends or family members might want to be connected with me on Facebook. (Or, in the case of some of them, they might not!) But if I then have a much larger cloud of professional acquaintances in the same undifferentiated "friend" status, people end up being connected or exposed in ways they didn't intend. A very useful essay on scale problems in social networks, by Tim O'Reilly last year, is here.
Given the continued growth of these networks, I realize that a story like today's can sound like the old joke about a restaurant that's so crowded nobody goes there any more. Still, I find that way too much of the traffic I get from Facebook is of the variety shown below (click for larger):
I could go through and "de-friend" the people identified as sending each of the invitations; or of course I could change my notification settings; but I could also reexamine what I am doing there at all. Before anyone else says it: yes, yes, I am aware that I am not exactly the target Facebook demographic. So, why did I join in the first place? Answer #1: I'll try almost anything that's interesting. Answer #2: I thought there could be value in connecting to people with shared journalistic, political, China- or tech- or aviation- or beer-related interests. But on balance it's not worth it -- and any lost childhood friend who wants to find me can probably figure out other ways to do that. So it is time to begin the dis-engagement process.
While I'm at it, this new piece in the NY Review of Books is very useful about Facebook's origins, strengths, and weaknesses. It is still remarkable to me that Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, so obviously stole the idea for the company from two other students that he made an out-of-court settlement of that claim for a sum usually reported to be $85 million. This is remarkable in many ways: that the sum was so "large," in normal terms; that it was so trivially "small," in terms of Facebook's current perceived worth (therefore amounting to a "great bargain"); and that it has so little apparent effect on Zuckerberg's standing or ability to get other firms to work with him. C'est la vie, as either Balzac or Richard O'Connor might have said, in somewhat different words.
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