In Search of a Good Social Network Site

It used to be that people needed products to survive.
Now products need people to survive.
Nicholas Johnson

I think other people can give you — at the right times — crucial input for your creative work. And while “solitary work” has its uses (beautifully put by Storr’s “The School of Genius”), other people are or can be fun. However, I find it hard to use a social network site. Facebook would be the one that would make most sense in terms of users (and people I know who are members, and those who are not), but I do not trust Facebook. A very interesting young woman I met last weekend said something like this that really hits the issue with Facebook:

Always remember that you are only Facebook’s users, not Facebook’s customers. The customers are the advertisers who pay Facebook’s bills and they do it to have access to your data in order to better manipulate you to buy their products.

And there is a problem with that. Sure, it makes sense to connect everything and make everything available (to the right person), but there is a lot of stuff going on that makes Facebook absolutely unsuitable for my purposes. And it isn’t always the obvious stuff (“all your data belongs to us”) or that I get ads that are so personalized that they are hard to refuse.

There are other problems as well. Take face recognition for example — beautiful idea, you upload a photo, Facebook tries to automatically identify the people on it and link it to their profiles — very useful in the general case. But what if the model used a Pseudonym (for more expressive photos) and Facebooks face recognition would link these expressive photos to her private account, which is likely linked to her friends and family and co-workers. Sure, why would you want to share expressive photos anyway? Probably because it is a(n important) part of my life, a part I would like to share with some friends — but not the whole world, and I would like to make the decision myself.

Sure, there are settings to prevent this situation, the main problem is that I cannot and do not trust Facebook. The way they use profile photos to advertise for their services (these people used feature x) — very bad vibe. And I am willing to bet that Facebook will implode. It’s another web-bubble, another dot-com-burst, and I find it confusing that few people see it. It might seem that it is hard to leave Facebook (“Hey man, all my life is on there.”), but it is not. Migration is not hard, especially when winter comes for Facebook and something new comes along — and suddenly “In every wood in every spring — There is a different green.” (Bilbo’s song from “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien).

Simply put, the problem is that Facebook is not on my side. Which is fair, like said by the interesting young woman, it is not my social network site, I do not pay for it (nope, did not buy any stocks, but my condolences to those who did). Google+ is no alternative — it has the same basic problem. Currently, there are a few specialized communities that are more on the user’s (if not customer’s) side, like LinkedIn, deviantART, Xing, OK Cupid, PhinisheD, etc. pp., but the big overall site is missing. And as fun mashups might be, there does not seem to be one which easily integrates these different specialized sites. Update: Dang — that is not the worst idea to solve it this way. Integrate different specialized sites, use the tight communities but make it more transparent — users, interests, etc.

But frankly, I would be willing to pay for a good social network site (in user fees, not stocks) — for a social network site that has my interests in mind — and helps me connect with other like-minded individuals (and quality usually trumps quantity).

So, I wonder — is there anything out there that is not specialized yet allows me to be a customer or at least is on my side?


  1. What do you think of “Diaspora” – at least it is open source and a decentralized network, so no “BIg Brother” can take care of all your data.


  2. Hoi Carsten,

    thank you — I’ve heard of it, but I haven’t tried it out yet … looks interesting … although I wonder whether a bottom-up solution is really the best here … I’ve nothing against a simple website, as long as the intention of the people doing it is right …

    All the best


  3. I do use Facebook, and I know people who work there who I trust. However, to put an even finer point on it, as a Facebook member you aren’t just a user. You’re actually the product. All those shares of Facebook actually just represent the market price of you, the user – your data (photos, words, participation) IS the product.

    I think what you sense in terms of Facebook potentially imploding is more of a tacit understanding that eventually nobody wants to be a product; whether that happens as a gradual understanding permeates as a a result of some different model, or as a result of some untrustworthy action by Facebook in service of it’s new corporate mission to maximize shareholder value, is anybody’s guess.

  4. Hoi Jerry,

    good point about the users being the product … interesting … and scary … idea …

    All the best & Thank you


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