Unless you’re one of the few people who is not on a social network, you’re aware that Facebook is rolling out its new interface, Timeline, in the very near future. I watched the f8 conference in which Mark Zuckerberg announced the new timeline, and what I saw scared me outright. While I appreciate Timeline from a UI design perspective (it does look quite nice), it’s unnerving to me to have the possibility of everything I’ve ever done available to just about everyone in the world at just a few clicks.
If Timeline itself weren’t dismaying enough, Facebook has changed the way I can control my data. Here I’m not even referring to privacy controls; I’m referring to the fact that you can no longer delete data in most places! When I started to really worry about Facebook’s use of my data, I deleted everything on my wall up to the previous week, and then kept only about a week’s worth of activity on my wall. I was able to remove posts, remove the little ‘stories’ that they put there every time I interacted with someone, and I had control over what could be seen with my profile. About two weeks ago, this changed – I could only “Hide” activity, not delete it directly.
This is an important distinction – from now on, regardless of your privacy settings, there will still be a record of everything you do on Facebook. Even if you restrict your profile through potentially improved privacy controls, you are granting Facebook the right to create your permanent record. Remember how your teachers threatened you with a “permanent record” in primary school? It exists now, and Mark Zuckerberg is the one who decides what gets done with that.
Mine is currently empty. I’ve deleted everything (that I could) associated with my account. There’s nothing on my wall; there are a few email messages still remaining (which I won’t delete for a couple of weeks to allow the recipients the chance to read them – thankfully email still works in the way that allows deletion), I have no notes, and I’ve deleted all the pictures, apps, and videos. I won’t go so far as to close the account, because it’s still how I’ve managed to keep in touch with a lot of people that I otherwise wouldn’t. I may log in every once in a while without interacting with people – which of course defeats the purpose. However, I’m hoping to convince people to start moving over to Facebook’s only competition, Google Plus.
I must say that as of late I’m impressed with Google Plus. While many of the same privacy concerns exist with Google Plus as do Facebook – we’re creating a record with what is essentially a marketing company in each instance – Google Plus seems to be doing things correctly. First, Circles is a great idea – I can determine who sees what content quickly and easily. Secondly, I still have the power to delete things. This is important! I can control my data in all instances on Google Plus. Finally, Google Plus is actually a social network. I realise the irony of an introvert looking to be more social, but with Google Plus it’s easy and powerful. One of my grad school classes has required that we have group meetings in a smaller group of four and in conjunction with a larger group of eight – and we’ve been having these meetings on Google Plus Hangouts. It is really easy to use, real-time, and no one has to leave the house! As you can imagine, scheduling eight people to meet somewhere – when those eight people who are working professionals (some with families) who also attend grad school – is extremely difficult. With Google Plus Hangouts, all we have to do is agree on a time we’ll all be home (this is in the evening, natch) – we can still meet “face to face” and be productive without having to worry about having to drive from MD, VA, or DC to a central point.
I also had the opportunity to look at the Beta version of Hangouts – it has all the features of the existing hangout, but adds the ability to do Wave-esque (as in Google Wave) things such as concurrent document editing in Google docs. Once that’s implemented, I think a lot of people will come to find that they can really get a lot more done with Google Plus and it’ll become a serious tool for students, small businesses, and even some large businesses.
Is any social network perfect? No. Will they ever be? No. However, at the moment, Google Plus seems to be the way to go – it provides many benefits, allows for productivity, puts the social back in “social” network, and has fewer concerns where privacy is concerned than does Facebook. Facebook may be the “third largest country” on the planet, but the small nation of Google Plus is growing.