Previously: Against Facebook: Details
Take Action: Help Us Find Your Blog (and others)
Epistemic Status: Shouting from the rooftops. For further details, see previous post.
This post is my recommendations for how to communicate online. If you need details and/or detailed justifications of my view of Facebook’s awfulness, check out Against Facebook: Details. I recommend reading it if either the details would interest you for their own sake, or you do not understand what I mean when I say that Facebook is out to get us.
I consider the non-obvious goals of a unified system to be
1: Minimize check-in requirements
When you feel the need to constantly check something or risk missing important things, that is very bad. You should minimize the number of places you need to check in, and the cost to checking in at those locations. You do not want that Skinner Box addictive drive to constantly hit refresh, but if you need to have it, have it in one place where you know right away if there is indeed something new and what it is. When Facebook is the source of important information and interaction, it adds another check-in point without taking away the need for others.
2: Know what you are responsible for seeing, and what others are responsible for having seen
There needs to be agreement that communication in some forms means you are responsible for seeing that information within a reasonable time frame, and equally important, you need agreement that communication in other forms does not carry this same obligation. Facebook operates in a grey area where people assume you have seen anything important, sometimes (in my personal experience) even if they have been explicitly told multiple times you never look at Facebook at all, but there is a real danger that any given post was never in your News Feed at all, let alone seen. Facebook needs to be in the second category, of things that no one is assumed to have seen unless they explicitly tell you (via a like, a response, or otherwise).
3: You need to be able to see everything you want to see, and know you have seen it, with a minimum of stuff you do not want
Advertisements are a negative, but so is being forced to see stuff you do not want along with stuff you do want, and having to sort through all of that. Ideally low-quality stuff is there when you want it but not mixed in too much with high-quality. You need a reasonable record of what you have and have not read, and to avoid unnecessary duplication. You absolutely, positively need to be able to know that you have not missed anything. On Facebook, this option is not available at this time except for the See First option.
4: You need to not be punished if you leave things for later
The worst is when things actually vanish from the internet entirely; anything that does this or gives daily rewards is automatically in the out to get you camp and needs to be treated accordingly. Almost as bad is if failure to read the entirety of your feed now effectively means you cannot reasonably recover that information later. A Twitter feed is strictly chronological, so although you have to scroll down a lot, you can reasonably pick up where you left off, making it the worst acceptable situation for this requirement – anything worse is really bad. Once you let time pass, any sort of attempt to recover what has been lost on Facebook is quite time consuming.
5: You need to be in control and avoid things that are out to get you
This means both the sense of ‘this Facebook habit is out of control and ruining my life’ and the more basic sense of ‘Facebook does not give me control over the News Feed.’ Facebook fails horribly on both counts. Staying in control is tough, but we strive to give ourselves a fighting chance!
Even if you avoid getting got by things that are out to get you, the need to do so almost always has a severe negative impact on the experience.
6: Contribute all worthy material to the collective commons
Anything you contribute, that might be of use to the world in the longer term (where the world can mean your friends up to the actual entire world) should be in a form where the world can use it and refer back to it, to build upon it. Facebook is very bad for this.
7: Reach those you want to reach
This one is tricky and situation-dependent, and the reason a lot of people who know better end up using Facebook anyway. I understand if this requires a little compromise.
Given that, what are our choices?
Known alternatives to using Facebook include actually meeting people in person (yes, it can be done!), phones, texting, Skype, chat rooms such as Discord or Slack, email, email groups, personal blogs, community blogs, forums and other social networks such as Twitter and Tumblr. Some things are hybrids of these (e.g. a Tumblr is a personal blog inside a social network).
What should we do?
Everyone should have an RSS reader of some kind. I use Feedly. If you do not have one, get one, and move as much of the internet that you follow onto your RSS reader. RSS readers allow you to quickly and easily know what has new content, track what you have and have not seen, and let you look at the parts of the world you are interested in today and not the ones you are not. They are a known great technology, and what makes it viable to follow all your friends’ personal blogs.
Use Facebook only for events, sharing contact information and messenger, and when absolutely necessary viewing of Facebook groups. For the few accounts that you simply have to keep watch over, use See First. With See First, they have given you a not out to get you tool, so use it while it lasts. View and use Facebook Groups the bare minimum amount you are socially forced to, and keep in mind that for posting that amount is probably zero.
You can also make a using-Facebook exception for posting links to your own posts elsewhere, but you have to feel bad about doing it. Do not consider this a ‘free action’ and strive to avoid it, but I understand if you feel it is necessary.
Use blogs to engage in discourse and to post anything public that will be of value more than a week in the future. Use an RSS reader to read other people’s blogs. If you are seeking truth, and that truth is longer lasting than ‘where shall we have lunch’ then help us create an archive and stand on the shoulders of giants. If you don’t have a blog, WordPress has been great for me and gives you an easy way to start.
Post your long form stuff to appropriate community blogs whenever possible. Again, this is the best thing for the long term, but it is important to make sure that the content fits where you are putting it. General note: If you ever feel that something I post here belongs on another site, ask me in the comments and I will likely be happy to share.
If you need to contact someone in real time, do it in person. If that is not practical, set up a video chat or phone call. If that is not practical, use email, text or messenger. Text and messenger are better for actual real time talk than email, but email prevents diversification of communication methods, so if it is almost as good, it should win. And in particular, go see your friends and family in person, or failing that call them. It is better.
If you need the people you know to know something, but not in real time, use email. Period. Email wins all ties. Email is the place-you-are-responsible-for-checking-periodically. If it reaches your email, and you do not see it after a reasonable amount of time, that’s on you. If it does not reach your email, it is on me. End of story.
Use email lists or Google Groups to coordinate among friends, even if there is a Facebook event. These technologies are known and they work well, and they invoke the rule that email equals awareness. Those not interested can easily mute the thread.
Use Twitter, optionally, to follow worthy accounts, engage in real time talk, and to share small things. Twitter is not out to get you and that is important, while the character limit enforces brevity, and it allows people to easily engage in conversation reasonably even if they do not know each other. If you tweet at high-status people they are likely to see it, you often get a response. This has its limits if you were to talk to Lady Gaga or Barack Obama, but you can absolutely get the attention of a Tyler Cohen or Marc Andreessen. If something pertains to them you can often get a retweet to call attention to a post or concept. My handle on Twitter is @TheZvi.
Read the good parts of Tumblr via RSS. It is much better than the dashboard and allows completionism. The world does not need more Tumblr blogs, as the comment/discussion methods are atrocious.
Avoid other social networks except for consumption via RSS. Adding more such places will only do even more damage than Facebook alone. Some more recent networks have some especially out to get you features that I basically can’t even. Definitely don’t get sucked into anything that disappears after 24 hours.
Use forums where they exist and are useful. They are not out to get you, but make sure nothing involved will force you to check in on them constantly – if so you will need email notifications that fix the issue. Otherwise, that would be bad.
Use other online communication methods sparingly. Slack, discord and other such things are fine in principle, but you want to minimize the number of such places, especially if they force you to check in. Assume there is a larger cost for using additional communication methods that your instincts would suggest.