Life Without Facebook
You're such a lovely audience, we'd love to take you home
For a variety of reasons, the Newslettr is not on Facebook.
The simplest reason is: after 17 years, I have suffered enough.
but first, the week’s news.
No News in America: There is no news in America this week. The newspapers are filled with olds1. Mostly coverage of Ukraine, and Supreme Court hearings. We are avoiding both stories.
Also Legal: the Newslettr is trying out some different branding. We are currently broadcasting as 也法的, which is roughly translated as “also legal”. It is pronounced roughly YEH FAA DE, which is close to Yevaud2. It’s 50-50 whether we change the masthead3 name again in April.
Confidence and Supply: Justin Trudeau continues to shore up his precarious political position. He announced an agreement with the NDP this week that should ensure he remains Prime Minister through 2025. This follows his recent trip to Windsor Castle to kiss hands with the Queen.
Lobachevsky: the Newslettr is investigating the use of prediction markets. For further discussion, check out our Manifold Markets community or read the weekly Mantic Monday thread at ACX. The Wordle markets are for calibration purposes; the two open questions regarding Richard Rapport and the name of the country whose capital is Ankara will be discussed in a future issue.
Facebook: A History
(editor’s note: if you want the inside story, you should watch The Social Network, a 2010 film. There is one glaring fictionalization in the piece: Zuckerberg was dating his now-wife Priscilla Chan throughout the events of the film. Other than that, it is as accurate as could possibly be expected.)
Facebook launched at Harvard University in February 2004. According to Wikipedia, half the student body signed up in the first month. Having demonstrated product-market fit, Facebook quickly launched4 at as many universities as possible. By 2005, it was endemic at virtually every university in the United States, and had a blank check from the top investors in Silicon Valley.
Initially, Facebook was sandboxed on a per-university basis: you could not connect with people outside your university. In hindsight, this may have been a feature rather than a limitation of the product. But there was a ticking clock of “around 1/4 of our users graduate college each year”, so the product evolved.
In September 2006, the product was made available to everyone. At the time, there were “regional networks” in addition to the university networks. There were still network-based limitations on how you view profiles.
By 2009, the historical fence-posts had been thrown in the junk-heap of history, and Facebook was more or less the unitary product we have today. Farmville launched on the platform in June 2009. I won’t belabor the point, but the target market for Farmville was not nineteen-year-old co-eds.
And, for the last decade, Facebook has metastasized. It has grown by bolt-on acquisition (Instagram, Whatsapp, and Oculus). The product has matured, and ripened, and started to rot.
Today, everyone has Facebook. Except for the people who never signed up, or the people who deleted their account. This prevalence is generally viewed as a bad thing.
What is a FacebookFriend?
So “friend” is a word with many meanings. To avoid confusion, we will use the CamelCase term FacebookFriend to refer specifically to “the relationship of being FacebookFriends on Facebook”.
It is fairly clear what it means to have a Bi-Directional Connection (bidico5) on LinkedIn. It most often means that at some point we have been business associates, and occasionally merely that one of us is interested in becoming business associates.
Twitter only has Uni-Directional Connections (udico). And … well, actually, Twitter has its own problems with “what does a connection mean”. the Newslettr has a Twitter6 account, @theNewslettr, that we use to broadcast various issues of the Newslettr, as well as interesting Tweets. One of the Newslettr’s editors has a Twitter account7 that is mostly used for shouting at people.
But what does a FacebookFriend mean?
It means that you are “publicly” affiliated with a person. Facebook did add some privacy rules for not showing mutual friends, but not that many.
It does not mean that either person has spoken to, interacted with, or thought about the other in the past five years.
It does not mean that either person is necessarily interested in hearing about personal issues, business issues, politics, sports, or … most other subjects.
It does not mean that either person is necessarily interested in hearing from the other for any reason at all.
It means that you get to see “activity stream” posts from the other person.
In 2016, I wrote the following about Twitter:
Right now, we have a metaphorical room filled with millions of people using Twitter. And you give each of them a hammer, and say “we want everybody to use hammers more”. And right now, the whole of American society is seeing the results of that. Presidential candidates hammer on each other. The “pro-GamerGate” and “anti-GamerGate” teams hammer on each other. Wild hordes of angry teenagers hammer at whoever their idols say mean things about.
Putting them together, Twitter becomes a sewer, a cloaca of the internet. Everyone is forced to shovel all their communications into a single, unfiltered stream. And thus I get chocolate in my peanut butter, I get hazelnut, I get leprosy and vegemite and gummy vitamins and shards of metal.
The unqualified question of “what is a FacebookFriend” is something like that. Also, the rest of Facebook.
At some point, I realized that having a visible list of FacebookFriends was not just useless, but actively harmful. Apparently, a lot of people think it weird when I remember one Facebook post they made four years ago if we haven’t talked in the interim. The solution8: don’t use Facebook.
Data Retention Policy
Very roughly, Facebook retains your data forever, and will display some of it publicly, unless you delete your account.
For photographs, this makes a lot of sense.
When you are starting an unnamed solar company, one question you ask is “what is the most embarrassing thing I said on Facebook?”. And when I consider that it was probably 8 years ago, and I was almost certainly drunk when I said it, it becomes far more manageable to delete everything.
Or, rather, to download everything and then delete it from Facebook.
Terms of Engagement
Facebook is quite useful for the “births, weddings, and deaths” news. However, I would much prefer the government to run a non-profit version of that.
For other content: I’m not sure what it might take for me to re-join Facebook. There is a general theme of “less is more”. Post less, share less, delete things that are posted and shared more. Some ideas:
You might want to just delete the entire database and start over. It would be nice if you saved the pictures, but the various status updates, “wall posts”, “Notes”, old classified ads, etc. can all go. Presumably there would be a lot of outrage — that just means you should do it first and ask forgiveness after.
You could make friendships expire. Charge 10 cents per year per “FacebookFriend”, and if nobody pays their dime9 then the line goes dead.
You could bring back the affiliation rule. Unless you are part of an “organization group”, you can’t be friends with somebody outside your geographic region. Or just “no friends further than 3ms away”, even if it is your cousin.
I keep pitching “if you want to post about sports or politics, you have to tag it” to nobody in particular. With GPT-3, we can have the system tag it automatically. But: if you aren’t specifically requesting it, no sports/politics talk in the main feed.
Facebook Messenger should definitely change to a “disappearing messages” model. (think Snapchat). If you want it to last more than a month, just send an email.
You really should ban “any images other than your own bona fide photographs” from the activity stream.
On the other hand, perhaps I should just assume that any replacement for Facebook will, in some horrible way, be far worse …
“As they stepped out into the silent street he wondered if Lord Vetinari had been right about the press. There was something…compelling about it. It was like a dog that stared at you until you fed it. A slightly dangerous dog. Dog bites man, he thought. But that’s not news. That’s olds.” - Terry Pratchett
Our magical research indicates that all dragon names are tonal, and are best represented in Chinese characters. Of course, after the incident involving a volcano erupting in synchronicity with our attempt to cast a magical spell, we do not discuss magical research here, except as necessary in the footnotes.
According to Wikipedia, “masthead” is another one of those words that means completely different things in US English and UK English. I’m not sure which meaning I actually want.
Of course, AWS didn’t exist, so the practical issues of “do we have enough servers [that is, computers] to launch” were a limiting factor.
If you want to make words that people will use, it’s not a bad idea to also publish your bad ideas. Udico and Bidico are bad ideas for words.
Yes, our Twitter account only has about 5 followers currently. We considered advertising, but found that when we ran ads, people would like posts without either following or clicking the link. There have also been various behind-the-scenes “please don’t start a viral tweet about the Newslettr” requests.
For obvious reasons, p0w32 is a private account. And by “obvious”, we mean “hopefully obvious to you now after it was explained; it took me 2 years to figure out how it was supposed to work”.
In a “somebody should have thought of this ahead of time” issue, somehow my Venmo account still has a stream of financial transactions from former FacebookFriends. Perhaps the term is “data laundering”.
There are five units of denomination for United States currency: the Eagle, the Dollar, the Dime, the Cent, and the Mill. The only ones ever used are dollars and cents; that is, unless you actually have a dime in your pocket.