I’ve noticed over the past couple of years that people’s disdain for Facebook seems to be in direct proportion to how much they use it. It’s the people that post upwards of ten times a day that complain the most about how much they hate it. I can’t think of anything else that people use so much while simultaneuously professing that they hate it, other than cocaine.
Those same people are the ones most excited about Ello, the new social networking site that promises all the functionality of Facebook without any ads or data-mining or games or videos or events or other people to clutter up or otherwise ruin the experience.
My Facebook feed has been full of people ostentatiously bidding Facebook adieu as they jump to Ello. “This is the last you’ll ever see of me. So long, Suckerberg!” Something tells me they’ll be back.
I use Facebook a lot, because A) I’m self-absorbed and much too impressed with my own wit (obviously), and B) because I have a boring desk job so it’s easy to keep a browser tab open and check it every so often. It helps to pass the time and makes it easy to validate every little thought that pops into my head, it lets me spread the word about the shows I do and the blog I write and the stuff I like. I have no problem with Facebook.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. I got pretty annoyed for a minute there, when my feed was nothing but FarmVille invites and updates, but then I figured out how to block FarmVille posts (and Mafia Wars, and Word With Friends). Problem solved!
I got annoyed early in my Facebook experience when a girl I went to high school with posted Christian affirmations four times a day, so I hid her from my timeline. Problem solved!
There was a dude who friended me that I’d never met but was a friend of a friend, but then he started making snarky, shitty comments on everything I posted, so I blocked him completely. Problem solved!
The Facebook app for iPhone got so bloated and so painfully slow to open or load or do anything that I deleted it from my phone. Now when I have 20 seconds of idle time on my hands in the grocery line or at the urinal, I try to take the opportunity to talk to the people around me and make a true human connection. Just kidding! I look at Twitter. Problem solved!
A lot of people were mad a few weeks ago when Facebook split the Messenger mobile app from the main Facebook mobile app. I had no idea so many people were using Facebook for messages, but maybe that’s just a sign of my age — I use Gmail and Gchat with the occasional Facebook message (usually from/to someone I don’t know well) every so often. Anyway, the new arrangement presents an awful Sophie’s Choice: you have to either download a separate app to access your Facebook messages on your phone, or else wait 40 minutes until you could get to the Facebook website on one of your eleven other Internet-enabled devices. Historians will shake their heads at the barbarism of it all. Anyway, I just wait till I get home. Problem solved!
One of the big selling points with Ello is that it is ad-free. I mentioned this to my wife and she said that sounded great because Facebook is totally riddled with ads; every fourth or fifth post in her feed is an ad, and the sidebars are both crowded with them. I had no idea this was the case, because I installed Adblock Plus on my browser (Chrome) a couple of years ago and haven’t seen an ad on the Internet since. Problem solved!
The other big selling point is that Ello is promising it will never sell user data to any third party. That’s great, but if it’s not going to sell user data and it’s not going to sell ads, how is it going to make money? All the features that it currently lacks, but is vaguely promising to add at some point in the future? Those can only be added by armies of programmers, and they don’t work cheap. Ello has reportedly taken over $400,000 in venture capital funding, and that is not a gift — the investors are going to want to see a return on their investment. So where’s it going to come from?
I don’t pretend to know, but it does cast some doubt on this utopian ideal of social networking that people seem to be so attracted to.
It’s natural to be a little bit resentful of Facebook. It came out of nowhere and insinuated itself into our lives so quickly and completely that we feel like we need it; we can’t even remember what it was like without it. We want the viral videos and the wedding photos and the witty discourse on random topics and the easy spread of information and the customizable privacy settings but we don’t want the distasteful things that come with it, like ads and user data mining and photos of people’s dinners, but those are the very things that allow it to exist at all. Those things are the reason Facebook almost never crashes or has even a momentary interruption in service. They generate the money that pays the people that keep the wheels on the road.
Nothing is completely free of charge. You don’t pay for Facebook with your money, you pay with your eyeballs. All that user data that we’re all so worried about them taking, they’re not selling it to the Russians; all it’s for is to try and tailor the ads you see to something you might actually buy. They want to know my sex and my age and the part of the country I live in and what kind of music I like so that they can try to sell me tickets for Stevie Wonder at Madison Square Garden instead of a Malibu Barbie Dream House. That doesn’t particularly bother me — I’ll never see the ads anyway, targeted or not. (How do you not have Adblock Plus installed, seriously?)
But really, the only thing that matters is if Ello can deliver a better experience than Facebook delivers, and the only way it can really do that is if everybody all makes the jump together, which is kind of like that time you were at that party in high school, and everyone was there, and the band was playing and there was a senior slideshow in one room and people watching movies in another and a hilarious cat that keeps doing funny things in the living room and even though there were were a few annoying people everyone’s having a great time and your one friend is like, “Hey let’s go over to my cousin’s basement,” and you’re like “Why?” and he’s like “this party is lame, it’s way better over there” and you’re like “but everyone is here, who’s over there?” and he’s like “my cousin, and me, and you, and like three other people” and you’re like “yeah they just tapped another keg, maybe I’ll meet you over there later.” (See also: Plus, Google.)
Facebook is not without its problems. For instance, it made me take at least two hours longer to write this piece than I should have. I’m certainly not telling you not to quit Facebook, because I couldn’t possibly care less. I’m just saying, right now that’s where the party is, so don’t be surprised if everyone doesn’t want to go over to your cousin’s basement.
Anyway, follow me on Ello! I’m @alexcastle.