Just over 4 weeks ago I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. I’ve had an account since freshman year of college (5+ years ago) and this was the first time I ever deactivated it. I used to be an avid user of Facebook. In fact, up until about 12 months ago, I would spend probably an hour a day on the site. I added photos, updated status messages, and tracked events using the service. I had some gripes here and there, but overall it was good for what I needed. Also, it provides an endless stream of content (“stalking”) for people who have too much time on their hands. Luckily, I can say that I rarely browsed Facebook to kill time. So what happened 12 months ago that changed my usage patterns? Two things: I graduated college and I became an avid user of Twitter.
College students love Facebook. Actually, it seems like everyone loves Facebook…at least until they start changing (“improving”) things. At Penn State there was an endless stream of parties, sporting events, meetings, and other things to keep track of. Facebook is great for inviting friends to things, or finding out what’s going on tonight. It’s also a great place to share photos and keep in touch with friends. I’m stating the obvious here, I know. The problem with Facebook is, it quickly becomes cluttered with people that you barely even know. Maybe you met the person once 2 years ago, or they are a friend of a friend…but regardless, you’re going to be getting constant updates on their life pushed into your stream. Sure you can choose to “Hide” that user from your stream, but you’re still going to get mass messages, event invites, application requests, etc. The easiest solution is to just unfriend them. This usually works, but there are always a few pesky stalkers who don’t get the message and keep trying to request you as a friend again. Facebook quickly turned into a game of cat-and-mouse where I tried to block out all of the clutter and keep up with the constant nagging of people that I don’t care about.
I believe that my core gripe with Facebook boils down to a single design decision. A design decision that Twitter nailed perfectly: one-sided friendships. Twitter allows me to “follow” other users but does not require that they follow me back. Even better than this, I can allow other Twitter users to follow my tweets without having to burden myself with their content if I’m not interested. This is critical. There are plenty of users who I am extremely interested in (popular tech bloggers, professional athletes, etc) who couldn’t care less what I did last weekend. Twitter makes it easy for each user to self-select the people they follow in order to get the most out of the service without having to waste time and effort sifting through all the baggage their “friends” bring.
So, to put it bluntly… I realized last month that the only time I visited Facebook was because I had to. I clicked a link from a friend, logged in, and then had to decline/ignore/hide 10 useless requests. It’s annoying, and I’m done with it. Will I quit Facebook forever? Maybe not. I could see some value in the service if I go through and remove a large portion of my friends. Other friends of mine take the approach of simply ignoring all invites/requests/etc. and just letting them build up. I guess that works, but it’s still a broken approach. For now I plan to continue living in the peaceful stream that is Twitter.