While hanging out with friends this weekend we passed around an article that highlights the privacy and ethical shortfalls of Facebook. Many of us commented on our intention to delete our accounts. I have followed through on this and I hope that many of them will as well. I have found a couple of things that will make the transition to a non-Facebook me easier.
Keeping your contacts:
This process allows you to get all of the email and other information from Facebook into other programs. The point here is that while Facebook has allowed us to get in touch with many old friends that may not be the way we want to continue to keep track of them. The process involves using a yahoo email account which has the option for importing your contact information from Facebook. Then export that information to your service/application of choice.
Microbloging -- Status Updates:
While Twitter is not the perfect solution it is simple and there is little mistake about what is public and what is not. I have a Twitter account that I will continue to use (http://twitter.com/gavaletz)
I plan on using my blog (you are here now) for posts that are to lengthy to fit into the character limit for the Twitter API. Here again there is little confusion about what is private or not.
Chat and Messages:
Email and instant messaging has worked for almost a decade and there seems little reason to think that it is not capable of working again. I don't plan on posting an email address here, but if you are/were one of my friends on Facebook you have received a email from me explaining that I have left Facebook behind with my contact information including a link to this blog.
Photos and Videos:
This is somewhere that I found Facebook to be particularly weak anyways. For video we use youtube and for photos we have always preferred Flickr. Both of these sites offer free accounts to receive updates when your friends post new photos, but offer RSS feeds as well (more on that in a minute).
There are some posts that are private in nature that I would like to share with family and friends but maybe not the entire Internet. There is not an immediately clear solution to this, but then again there might be a problem with trying to post something that is partially protected to the internet. It is possible to make a protected blog that requires users to register to see the posts and that may be the solution.
Aggregating the Information:
One of the selling points of Facebook is that it has everything in one convenient place. I don't have to check n different blogs for my n friends. There is a solution for this too. And you have your choice in providers! I personally use Google Reader, but there are many other options. Most blogs, twitter feeds etc. have the option of subscribing to an RSS feed. You may recognize it by the small orange square with the white curved lines... Clicking on this button will allow you to follow this feed in your RSS reader. This way you have one place to look to all of the most recent blog/twitter updates from your friends.
What is Missing:
There are some features of Facebook that are not replicated in my plan, but that may be for the better. I will be so glad to never hear about the sheep that wandered off someone's farm. The social network is missing, but lets be honest about that. Most of us have filled in our social network from our past more than we would like to, and if someone wants to find my blog or twitter feed then they can simply search for me on Google.
There are plans in the works for a open source solution to Facebook. Without a centralized entity controlling our data we can share and feel more in control, but the honest truth is that once shared we are never in control. These guys are well funded and have some great ideas about an alternative to Facebook that puts 100% of the control in the user's hands.
What you Gain:
Following this type of plan does not put all of your digital "eggs" in one basket. Facebook is not alone, and many of the services that I have described above are corporate entities completely capable of making bad decisions with your data. BUT, by not relying on one for everything you are free to move one bit to another provider without having to change everything. Further by not having everything in one place you are doing less to empower one company with all of your data.
It is important that we share our information responsibly, and that means taking a long hard look at the companies that we are trusting with our data. The biggest reason for me taking the steps to deactivate my account is that even though I have taken the time and the care to set privacy settings for my account Facebook has a history of setting those to a conveniently open default when it wants to roll out an "update." There is no opt-in for Facebook because they survie on me sharing more and more private and personal information. I would encourage you to have a look at the article in Time Magazine that made me and many of my friends realize that Facebook was not something that we wanted to be a part of.