I doubt that I need to repeat to you all the growing sense of mistrust and unease surrounding everybody’s favourite social network, Facebook. Over the last few weeks there has been concern (Wired) after concern (Economist) – some of them legal challenges – being put forward by privacy advocates and social media experts – with a few quitting the social network in protest and some advocating a mass-termination of accounts on May 31st. It’s even made the upcoming cover of Time magazine…
I’ll let you read up via the links above if you aren’t too aware of what has been going on, and believe me when I say that it is worth your time; particularly if you place any value on keeping your personal information and data private.
But, you see, the thing is that as much as many of us really do hate what Facebook is doing – and particularly hate the smarmy, arrogant manner in which founder Mark Zuckerberg often presents himself – we also get a heck of a lot added to our lives through our using of the seemingly ubiquitous network. Facebook has become part of the social consciousness throughout the developed, and now also the developing, world and if you aren’t on it you actually run the serious risk of becoming somewhat ostracised from your peer group. Some of you might be saying, good riddance to them – if they aren’t going to be my friends in ‘real’ life than who needs them? But the fact remains, Facebook provides us with a great deal of pleasure and value in our day-to-day lives.
So what can we do then? How can we fight this emerging evil empire? Well, the obvious option is to swap over to another social network. Obviously this would have to be one that both a) takes our privacy concerns very seriously indeed, and even more importantly b) most of our friends use it. The latter qualification is where problems start to arise, because outside of maybe LinkedIn (which is definitely worth joining if you haven’t already), Twitter and MySpace do you ever hear your friends talking about any other social network? Thought so.
But there is hope on the horizon. People have heard the call. Even more so, not all of them have billion-dollar signs in their eyes. That’s right folks, some of these people actually want to help you socialise without pocketing ridiculous amounts of change from relatively simple software implementations. Granted, there aren’t too many of these wonderful champions of liberty; but even in the corporate world there are alternatives that, at least at this point in time, seem to be less evil than the Zuckerberg empire. And don’t even get me started on the, almost certainly true, allegations that Facebook is openly and happily allowing intelligence agencies to data-mine and profile you.
Hopefully that last part scared you enough to consider these new and upcoming alternatives:
1) Google Buzz – the first recent alternative actually comes from Facebook’s arch-nemesis and equally evil empirish Google. Designed to integrate into the increasingly popular Gmail platform, Buzz offers most of the tools and utility that people are used to with Facebook (minus the thousands of annoying applications, most of which are completely pointless anyway). But I’m not going to say much about Buzz, nor am I going to link to it, because Google plays just as loose and fast with your private data as Facebook does and has come under much criticism for doing so; even with this new platform. There is an opportunity for Google to respond to these concerns faster than Facebook does – but something tells me that isn’t going to happen. Avoid, as this is simply a case of “Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi!”
2) SocialGO and Ning – I’m including both of these together as they essentially do the same thing; allow you to create your own social network that can be customised to meet your needs. Ning has recently announced that they are moving to a paid subscription model, and to get the most out of SocialGO you need to do the same. The advantage of these platforms is that you can create closed social networks that are aesthetically designed to the theme/taste/needs of those using it; the disadvantage is that the costs can add up pretty quickly, plus each network can feel a bit isolated from the larger community in my experience.
3) webNetwork – Taking the SocialGO/Ning idea a step further; webNetwork allows you to do many of the same things but hosted on your own servers and at a fraction of the cost. It is basically a development tool that you are purchasing a lifetime licence for (at the very reasonable cost of USD$100) that will enable you to build your own social network hosted wherever you wish. Obviously this could lead to some bandwidth concerns, but they should be easier and cheaper to overcome than the models that SocialGO or Ning offer for example. Where platforms like this will really come into their own is from a decentralised web of many different social networks that can all openly communicate and share data with one another…
4) Diaspora* – Now THIS is more like it: open-source, decentralised, crowd-funded social network goodness. It’s everything the revolution should be – and it’s getting me, and many others, very very excited indeed. This particular response to the privacy wars was brought to everybody’s attention mainly through the way that the small team of four managed to raise funds in order to get it developed. Using a crowd-source funding platform called Kickstarter, the Diaspora* team asked for a mere $10,000 and they had a few weeks to collect it via micro-transactions. Thing is, at the stage of writing this – with 12 days left to go – they have raised over $175,000, and the amount continues to increase. This means one thing in particular, it will get made and it will get made WELL. Downside? It doesn’t actually exist yet in a scalable, public form; we don’t know how easy it will be for people to implement (absolutely vital!); or how much, if anything, it will cost for the very user-friendly version Whatever happens, this is one of the up and coming alternatives to Facebook that is definitely worth watching.
5) OneSocialWeb – Similar in nature to Diaspora* but further along in development and funding is OneSocialWeb, an effort to again create a decentralised social network standard that would allow us all to take back claim of our data and digital identity. Developed by Vodaphone, surprisingly, this is an attempt to allow different social networks to communicate with one another through an online implementation (in a similar manner to email, for example). What this means is that we won’t all have to migrate to one new social network, which would require far too much critical mass to compete with the all-mighty Facebook any time in the next decade or so. It will be initiatives such as OneSocialWeb that could lead to the decline of Facebook through a ‘thousand cuts’ scenario – people choose their favourite social network implementations (based on privacy, ease-of-use, features) and then they can all communicate with one another. If we are at all concerned with our personal rights and liberty moving into the future then we should be supporting developments such as OneSocialWeb whole-heartedly.
So there you have it people – Facebook has pushed us all too far and now is the time to fight back. Spread the word, and the alternatives, as far and wide as you can because this revolution will require significant numbers to make an impact.
Does this mean you have to delete your Facebook profile altogether? Not at all. But I would certainly start reconsidering the kinds of information you put on there. Do you really need to let people (and Facebook, Microsoft, Yelp, the CIA/DARPA…allegedly) know every book that you like, movie that you watch, or celebrity that you adore? Are you aware of just how much can be done with these seemingly innocuous pieces of information? Are you willing to do something about it?
The social web is not going anywhere; in fact, it’s going to become even more central to our lives. With this being the case we must ensure we retain control of our personal identities and don’t just become a product to be exploited by companies that couldn’t care less about who you are as an individual. The social web MUST become decentralised. The revolution is here. Vive le Révolution!