Further thoughts about Facebook: there are a lot of things horribly wrong with it, mainly involving its failure to make the transition from a virtual hangout for American college students to a general social networking site. I don't trust the site, but apart from the bits where I think they have an actually malicious business model, the way they do privacy is I think actively harmful through lack of competence; it's not transparent who sees what information, and the default state is ridiculously open while it's complicated and non-intuitive to lock things down. And there's just a lot of stuff which is barely functional, muddled and with no top down vision of how things are supposed to fit together. There's also the problem of fragmentation that Gerv mentions.
By comparison with LJ, it feels a lot more like a silly time waster, than a medium for actual conversation and socializing. And yet, there are people there who not only aren't on LJ, but who aren't really online at all, except accidentally. I can see how it's useful for a kind of virtual version of social grooming, keeping vaguely in touch with people one already knows with a lot less effort than email or blogging. The thing I absolutely love about it is that it has found me a good proportion of the people I've lost over the course of my life. I've been on the site less than a week, and it already beats both Google and FriendsReunited.
Reconnecting with childhood friends has brought on a fit of nostalgia, which I shall discuss behind the cut. I've also been scanning and uploading some of the photos I have from years ago; the instant feedback that Facebook supplies is gratifying.
Between the ages of 5 and 7 my best friend was AA. She was in many ways rather spoiled, being the adored youngest child of an oil magnate and old blood English gentry. She lived in a huge Tudor house and had more toys than any reasonable child could possibly play with. I adored her; I tended to hang around the princessish types, seeing myself in the handmaid or sidekick role. In my imagination, I was plain but my practical sense was indispensable in helping my chosen heroine to deal with the viscissitudes of the world in order to marry the handsome prince in the end. (What happens to the handmaid in happily ever after? It's nice to imagine that the princess gives her an apartment in some unimportant corner of the palace and a reasonable living, after the story forgets about her.)
Anyway, I lost AA when I moved schools at the age of 7. At the time I didn't realize it was a loss; she had two older sisters at the Perse and it was assumed that she would follow me a year or two behind, as her parents didn't approve of such a young child travelling on the train to school by herself. (There was never any doubt that she would meet the stringent academic standards; it was clear that she was the only person in the class who was close to being as academically talented as I was, and besides, she was a princess, it was unthinkable that she would be other than superlative at anything.) Even if I had known the future, I don't think that at that age I really had the means to keep in touch with a former schoolfriend. What actually happened was that her parents divorced suddenly and messily; I was too young to know the details, but the upshot was that her mother took all the children to her ancestral place in Devon, and I lost her altogether. But she showed up on Facebook, more than 20 years later!
My first year at the Perse was pretty miserable. I didn't fit in socially; the class differences were so slight as to be invisible to an outsider, but I was clearly not posh enough by a notch or two. And I was rather a tomboy, though at the time I hated the term, and my physicality and loudness horrified the well brought up young ladies around me. My biggest problem was that my class teacher was tormenting me out of what I can now identify as a weird combination of anti-semitism and intellectual insecurity (in retrospect it's kind of pitiful that an adult would be intellectually threatened by an eight-year-old, though I don't deny that I was a piece of work). Even now writing it down it seems extremely unlikely that any professional would behave that way, and at the time I couldn't get anyone to believe me.
HK took me seriously. She was a couple of years older, and definitely not a princess. We fell into the habit of walking to school together, and HK would horrify me by saying critical things about people in authority. Sometimes we'd get absorbed in conversation or distracted by interesting things on the route, and end up late for school. This led to the headmistress publically berating HK for being a "bad influence" on me. She was a bad influence, but not by making me late for school occasionally (which in all honesty was a lot to do with me not wanting to face my class teacher's sarcasm, mockery or screaming fits). But she was the first person I met who questioned authority for a good reason, and not just to prove how much of a rebel they were, and that was a pretty valuable example.
When I contacted her on FB she admitted that she doesn't really remember me. I'm not surprised, because it's the kind of honesty I'd expect from her and because really, we were only friends for a couple of months at most. But it was important to me at the time, and I'm glad Facebook reminded me of it.
don't dare even look at another time sink, so the stuff about Facebook I skimmed, but those were vivid descriptions of the people. Class distinctions--didn't know that still happened. I tend to think of everyone as a giant mishmosh of middle class, with more or less money.
I don't think you'd be very tempted by Facebook, really. Someone commented that the people who tend to get into Facebook tend to be the ones who aren't heavily into LJ but have an account here so they can keep up with friends; Facebook is as good or better for that. But it's no good for having interesting discussions about books and meeting new people with fun ideas. But sensible of you to avoid potential time sinks.
I'm really bad at class analysis. I am pretty certain that it plays out really differently in England from the US, and it's not exactly the case that anybody directly made fun of me for being lower class. There are definitely class things going on; the big divisions into upper, middle and working class are I think real social forces, and the more subtle divisions are important in some circumstances.
The thing is, I ought to have been solidly within the demographic of the school I went to. I'm as middle class as could be; both my parents are university graduates with professional jobs. But I'd gone to primary school in an area that was, eh, I don't even know the term for it, somewhere between lower-middle and working-class with aspirations. I picked up some of the accent and assumptions that went with that. There was also the thing where I'd been more or less an honorary boy until then and suddenly I was in the middle of an all-girls' school and I had no idea how girls' social rules worked. That wasn't a class thing as such, but it did lead to me being labelled as "rough", which felt like the sort of thing that people say about social inferiors.
The people at school who thought I was weird were either the children of university people (so there was gown vs town snobbery going on there) or they were a thing that is really hard to explain to anyone not English that is termed "county". They're people who aren't necessarily amazingly wealthy, but often live on land that has been in the family since records began, and they're not titled but they probably move in the same circles as peers and minor royalty, and may even occasionally marry in to what you might term noble families. (Think Camilla Parker-Bowles, if you've come across her.) I don't think it was money; there were people in school whose parents were definitely richer than mine, but it certainly wasn't everybody, and it was the kind of middle class that would have been horrified to make social distinctions based on anything so crude as money.
The thing is, my school had a lot of great strengths, but one of the things it was really terrible at was dealing with bad teachers. They had the most amazingly low staff turnover you could imagine; people would join the school straight out of teacher training college and stay there until they retired (often far older than the statutory age). Which in many cases was a good thing, but the strong esprit de corps sometimes meant they banded together to protect teachers who really should have been kept far away from children.
Miss Rattle-'em Bones (as HK used to call her) had a lot of problems. To call her anti-semitic is probably a bit unfair; she was some kind of Christian who had never really dealt with the idea that there's something of a contradiction between a literal understanding of Christianity and the fact that Jews still exist today. I was extremely quick to point out why her theology failed to make sense, so it's not surprising that she was upset. (She ended up leaving teaching to become some kind of church leader, I believe.)
As for being believed, well. The other girls in my class believed me because they saw how the teacher treated me (poor hmw26 was stuck sitting next to me when this woman was getting in my face and screaming at me). But they were about equally horrified by the fact that when the teacher screamed at me I'd scream right back, which wasn't the expected reaction to getting told off, whether reasonably or unreasonably.
I've talked to my parents about it since and they did take me more seriously than they were letting on at the time. They have a moral principle that parents should uphold the authority of teachers, otherwise everybody's education suffers. And in the long term they were right; it was a lot better for me to stick out that awful year and go on to another nine years of really good education, than it would have been to kick up a fuss which would likely have ended with me being taken out of the school. It's also true that I was economical in reporting what exactly I'd been doing to provoke the teacher to such levels of fury, so on that level blaming me for being a pest was somewhat justified. And some of it was just not believable; how could a teacher yell at an eight-year-old child for having an asthma attack?
It's definitely less satisfying, it's like a bar snack to a banquet. And I agree it's unmanageable with more than a dozen contacts. I hate the way the news feed selects stuff at random instead of giving you a comprehensive list of your friends' activity. And visiting each profile individually every time I log on is just not going to happen. There are a few not bad features, but I agree with you, the only real merit is has is that people are there who aren't anywhere else.
Assuming you trust them to implement what they say they've implemented (this attack is an absolutely classic way to get around database access restrictions, although I think its previous uses are limited to less important stuff than Facebook, like medical records and census data), I think FB's privacy options aren't bad. They're very fine grained, though, which means they suffer from giving the user too much choice, and they should permit users to preview what other people can see. I do like the paragraph at the top of the privacy settings pages which summarises who can see what.
I don't think Facebook is evil and terrible and about to destroy civilization, no. I'm fairly certain they plugged the particular leak you mention; it got so much publicity that they had to jump on it fairly quickly. It's now set up so you never have lower privacy in searches than in profile visibility.
But it's absolutely typical of the way FB operates; they introduce new features without warning, features which release information that was previously private and are open by default. And they don't deal with the leak until there's a huge outcry, when they provide yet another knob for the already too complicated privacy settings after the horse has bolted. It was the same story when they first introduced the news feeds. They can claim that the options are there to lock down, but the user really has to be actively looking for them. The lack of preview and general transparency makes the system almost worse than useless, I think.
The reason I think it's malicious is that they're collecting user-created data, and then selling it. I have somewhat of a moral problem with that, though it's not like, you know, using child slaves on treadmills to power their servers or something. But still, they're offering a kind of honeypot to get people to share data they probably wouldn't volunteer if asked directly and with a clear presentation of what it would be used for. I am on Facebook because I actually want access to the information that they are making into a giant directory. But there are plenty of more or less shady organizations out there who want the directory qua directory, and Facebook are cheerfully feeding it to them in small and profitable gobbets.
You can't call FB messages Balkanised if everyone uses Facebook, as is inevitably our fate. Seriously, though, spammers will find their way onto FB when it becomes worthwhile for them to do so. Any system which allows complete strangers to message each other will be spammed.
That said, FB has significant advantages over Internet email when defending itself from spam. Internet email spam in its current form is essentially a solved problem if you're prepared to enforce some minimal standards on inbound email (sort of a hedged garden, you might say), but most providers of email services haven't realised this yet. This causes users to implement their own solutions (great for people like me, not so great for non-geeks), or to continually abandon addresses as they become known to spammers. FB can centralise their anti-spam stuff. They don't have no worry about anti-spam methods fighting each other. They can foist what they like on their users, rather than waiting for protracted Internet standards debates followed by slow and patchy adoption of new standards. They already have your friend list for whitelisting, ensuring that messages from people you care about (or merely met once at a party) will get through.
I think an inbound Internet email gateway enforcing some minimum standards would be a win for Facebook. It would keep their page views up. As Facebook takes over the world, would encourage everyone to meet those standards, so it would help the rest of us too.
I think there are two separate problems: what you term "Balkanisation" (lovely word), and what Gerv calls "proprietarisation" (which is a horrible word, but a useful concept). If everybody uses FB, you solve the first problem but not the second. It's not a good thing that (to a first order approximation), everybody uses Windows; if something closed source and commercial becomes the de facto standard, this is a problem. FB is of course a single point of failure, whether it is ultimately killed by bad management, malice or an attack. (I am not so concerned that everybody uses Google, because Google doesn't control content in the same way.)
I'm not anyway convinced that FB will be the next Google, taking over the internet long-term, rather than the next eBay: a great idea whose popularity peaked quickly, but which quickly became unwieldly. The main reason I lean towards the latter prediction is that FB is rather badly written, from what I as an amateur can tell.
FB as a walled garden for email might happen, yeah. I agree with you that nothing is unspammable, and indeed I already see a lot of near-spam on Facebook, people reposting viral notes and filling up communities and networks with repeated copies of barely relevant ads. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the fully automated penis enlargement stuff shows up. But unlike any other attempted walled garden system, FB provides motivations for people to join apart from just the messaging service.
Honestly, I think it's a shame the site has such unassailable brand primacy, because it could easily be so much better. As it is it's really shoddy and I suspect we're stuck with it.
I think my biggest worry about Facebook is that it seems to have two purposes -- social networking with current friends, and finding people from the past -- and that it's hard to separate them.
Right now, I don't have a Facebook account, because I need extra timesinks like I need a hole in the head, but on the other hand an increasing number of friends seem to be using it to organise their lives. I worry that at some point, my only option will be to join Facebook if I want to keep in contact with those people.
On the other hand, since leaving school I've changed name, gender, and so much about the way I live and who I am. I spent nine utterly miserable years at boarding school; I know where to find the two real friends I had in that time, and on the whole I'd rather not be easily found by the vast majority of those who I knew there. (The one occasion on which I went back in recent years was slightly satisfying, watching people's brains break at the transformation of an insecure, bullied small boy into an elegant and confident woman, but really, it's not something to be repeated...)
While LiveJournal's pseudonymity is limited, I do like my ability here to say different things to different audiences, not to need to share everything about myself indiscriminately; it may only be an illusion of privacy, but it's one that's still very important to me.
You are absolutely right, the biggest annoyance about FB is that it's mixing alumni networking with ongoing social stuff. I'm also really irritated about its total failure to handle maiden names and of course more unusual name changes such as your situation. I similarly like the way LJ is pseudonymous, too.
I do love the image of your showing up at your old school and breaking people's brains. Kudos to you! I'm pleased you got the chance to do that. But it makes sense that you wouldn't really want to get back in touch with your former classmates.
For my part I really have very few actual enemies, which is a reason I care more about being findable than private. The only downside is potential employers making snap judgements by finding stuff which is embarrassing out of context. I think I'm reasonably protected against that, but nothing is perfect, of course.
I decided to have a look at Facebook around the time you posted about it and what has interested me is that it would appear that we fall either side of a generational divide. Apart from my brother and his wife (who are 2 and 7 years younger than me), there are only a couple of my friends present (and not just from school, but other parts of life before and since, although most of a similar age). I do wonder if I am unable to find people because they are married and no longer using their maiden names (and I too would fit into that category), an issue which Friends Reunited has overcome or whether my peer group are the first who are either slower to adopt or more reluctant to use on-line networking/friend tools as similarly, very few seem to blog.
I think you're absolutely right about the generation gap. My age group are just on the cusp; for us, having any online presence is somewhat an indicator of geekiness. But my sister, who is 5 years younger, is part of a peer group who very much live their lives in a state of constant connection. (I'm teaching a group of 12-year-olds and it's interesting, they're just starting to discover communication networks. I don't know if there was any equivalent transition for us, in terms of starting to manage our own social lives rather than relying on companions picked by our parents and schools. I think it happened rather later, and probably more gradually.)
The maiden name issue is really irritating, too. It's probably about the only reason I'll continue to use Friends Reunited at all.
Facebook might be good to get in touch with people you lost. But otherwise I am not sure if the message going back and forth can be seen by all other people on your f-list on facebook. That is meant as a question. I prefer emailing directly. I would not even like everybody seeing my email for example.
My understanding is that the messages on walls are probably public. You can't be sure, but it's best to assume anyone can read them. The direct messages are private, or at least no less private than email.
It's one of the many privacy options (on the profile privacy settings). By convention, though, walls are for ostentatiously public conversations, so it'd be a bit silly to remove it entirely (but there's the "only me" visibility option of you want that).
Facebook provides 2 important things neither email nor LJ do: ability to send public messages that are not a specific response to a recent post, and the powerful picture browsing + picture discussion.
There is an important difference between private communication (email, FB messaging) and publicly visible communication (lj, FB wall). When talking to people I do not know well, I feel a lot more relaxed usingw the public format. Inside LJ this is only possible as a response to a post, and can be a bit awkward if someone has not posted recently.
Pictures: FB is a more image and media based communication. I do not think that has to make it shallow.
Finally and most importantly, to me FB creates a community feeling more than lj does. I am not sure I understand exactly why; will think.