Flush with cash and drunk with power after its $100 billion IPO, Facebook could be caught secretly brainwashing millions of new users into signing up (mind-control hoodies, anyone?) — and still I might not quit the world’s largest social network.
Ridiculous scenario aside, I’m pretty serious. Despite ongoing privacy concerns and rumblings of a backlash, it would take something drastic to make me leave Facebook at this point.
More than just a daily habit, Facebook has become the place where I get important, often surprising glimpses into the lives of the 1,365 people with whom I’ve chosen to connect. (That’s not counting friends-of-friends, for Facebook’s tentacles are ever-extended).
I’m not always in love with Facebook, of course. I get frustrated with the social network like everyone else. Every six months, Facebook introduces some huge new design of its site or engages in privacy-eroding practices that send many of its users howling into the status-update box.
They threaten to shut down their accounts, write furious blog posts and organize ridiculous movements such as Quit Facebook Day, which got less than 40,000 people to commit to deleting themselves — a tiny fraction of the network even back in 2010.
But, in large part, the people who say they’re leaving Facebook don’t. Or they quit and come back.
Me, I’m staying put. At this point, complaining about Facebook is like grousing about the electric company while watching TV, or saying how lousy politicians are but forgetting to vote. Facebook just is. It’s become an institution — one that’s going to be around for a long while — and all the missteps it’s made in its young, eight-year life have never prompted significant user defection.
Facebook is on track to hit a billion users sometime this year. A billion people. With just a few exceptions, that includes nearly every person I have ever worked with, a big chunk of my extended family, most of my friends going all the way back to elementary school and probably all the kids who were in my nursery at the hospital where I was born.
There’s critical mass, and then there’s Facebook, the Death Star that deflects every effort to blow it up. Facebook has won the social-media wars because it’s where all the people are. Those who have been waiting for something else to take its place, the way Facebook siphoned off the population of MySpace about five years ago, are still waiting. MySpace, even at its peak, never had the mainstream acceptance and durability of Facebook.
I post lots of random thoughts and news links on Twitter, share photos of my wanderings on Instagram and still check in on the increasingly hollow Google+ on a daily basis. But everything I post to those services also ends up on Facebook because it’s the platform that feels the most robust and future-proof.
Since Facebook introduced its controversial Timeline design last year, my important personal milestones (college graduation, marriage, the births of my daughters, the “Friday Night Lights” finale) all have neatly filed themselves into the digital record of my life.
That’s what Facebook wants, of course. But I’ve come to stop resisting its voracious appetite for personal information.
If I didn’t share, and my friends and relatives and co-workers didn’t share, I’d be less apt to know who just got engaged, who just celebrated a graduation or who in my online community just died suddenly. When my grandmother died earlier this year, it was the place my relatives posted photos of her I’d never seen before. It was where far-flung friends and family members offered their condolences for weeks after the funeral service.
Sure, we’ve seen the inevitable backlash as Facebook has grown to include everyone from your grandmother to that third-grade classmate you never really wanted to hear from again. But lately, it feels like the arguments in favor of leaving Mark Zuckerberg’s social network have gotten weaker as people become more resigned to the notion of a permanent Facebook.
When Facebook recently bought photo-sharing app Instagram for $1 billion, Instagram users vowed to quit, complaining that their precious little network had sold out to a monolithic company. (Funny, that didn’t stop Instagram from jumping from 30 million users to 50 million in about a month.)
Would-be competitors who have tried to take on Facebook have largely failed to gain traction. Path, which has a lovely interface and is more focused on smaller circles of friends, just hit 2 million users a few months ago. And Diaspora, the open-source, nonprofit that was supposed to threaten Facebook’s laissez-faire attitude toward privacy, has yet to crack half a million users.
Once Facebook has shareholders to answer to, things may change. But perhaps not as much as you’d expect. At a South by Southwest Interactive event in 2008, I saw Zuckerberg speak about his company to application developers. Even then, he stressed that the future of Facebook was not as a website or tool, but as a global communication platform upon which other things would be built. It’s been amazing to observe how little he’s veered from that vision during four years of astronomical growth.
If something is ever going to take the place of Facebook once the company gets so big and complacent that it loses focus, it will probably be something built on top of Facebook. Perhaps a mobile app that accesses the social network’s huge population, something Facebook-adjacent that takes what people like about Facebook and turns it into something more nimble and attractive than Facebook itself.
Maybe then I’ll think about pulling up stakes. Until then, I’m not leaving.