I’ve pretty much had enough of Facebook. Of course, I’ve been saying that for months, maybe years. But I’ve noticed lately how seriously aggravating the service is in terms of where and how it broadcasts every single action you take. Just one example: when you upload photos, though you can adjust who sees the photos, what you cannot change is that no matter what, it will show them on everyone’s news feed instantly. You can hide it from your own wall/timeline/whatever the fuck they’re calling it now, but it always goes up so that everyone else sees, right away, “Dan posted three photos to the Summers album.” Occasionally, for whatever reason, you might want to add some photos quietly just so they’re there. You cannot. Maybe I found three old photos in the iPhoto of my old laptop and I just want to upload them so they’re all in one place, but I don’t feel like having random fucking people comment on them right now. Too bad. There are about umpteen other issues with the site now that i won’t get into, but my point is that it’s become very difficult to actually control the way your activity is publicized, and thus using it doesn’t feel fun or easy. The organization has transitioned from focusing on the user experience to concerning itself with its future as a public company. And that’s smart business, but it doesn’t make for a particularly elated user base.
What Facebook has going for it is that people like me who always long to leave really won’t until everyone else goes somewhere else too. It’s simply too useful of a communicative tool for staying in touch with people that I don’t see enough, like, say, my friends from Ireland that I met while abroad. If I were to leave Facebook, it would effectively cut off my contact with those people. Most of them don’t use Twitter and as we all know, the amount of effort it takes to email someone and say hi is far greater than it takes to simply write on their wall. You’d lose touch with a great deal of people.
I’m vaguely intrigued by a relatively new social network called Path, which looks visually pretty and seems to be geared toward families (you’re limited to a certain number of friends, so goodbye to all those random people from years back that you have no real relationship with). If everyone I love were to magically join Path I’d happily leave Facebook, but good luck with that, right?
So, I’m stuck with Facebook. But I don’t have to use it much beyond that. And lately, I don’t. Instead, I have various other outlets for other types of posts. I’m sure there are many that use the social web in the same way, but I also feel that the majority of people I know just use Facebook for everything, which, of course, is what the company wants: it’s trying to become the entire Internet, self-contained (it has a market! it wants to be a bank!), which is exactly what annoys me. Instead, I turn to other sites as specialized verticals I use strictly for the one thing they do strongly, and I’ve been thinking about that usage and wanted to discuss it.
Twitter continues to be extremely useful not just for breaking news, but also anything that requires crowd-sourcing. If I’m deciding between three movies to see, I take to Twitter, not Facebook. (And I don’t just mean to tweet the question out and get responses, but I’ll also enter the movie title into search, which is truly helpful.) If I see that a person’s name, or a town, or sports team, is trending, I can search for it and find out why immediately. None of this is possible, or at least not as easy, on Facebook, which to me has become a place where people mostly do the following: announce that they are at a certain location; post an entire album of vacation photos I don’t care to click through; share a funny picture or video on a friend’s wall, which you see on your feed if you’re friends with both; and publicize their own professional work (which I certainly do, though not with every single story I write, only major features). I’m too turned off now to use it for much beyond an occasional funny status, if I really can’t resist, or to link to my work, or to share a single nostalgic photo, like from a night out or from years back, on a specific friend’s wall. Twitter, meanwhile, is my most useful tool for news-gathering, and nowadays, when I hear someone who doesn’t use it say something like, “I don’t care what people are eating for lunch,” or, “I don’t need to broadcast my every thought and action,” I just accept that: a) they don’t understand what Twitter is really for, and b) they’ve decided to hate on it and won’t be swayed, so why bother. But Twitter is yours to curate, and what you get out of it depends on who you follow. My chef friend’s entire feed is food-related. Mine is very heavy in literary chatter, with hard news and sports well-represented too. If you like, you can set up yours to only get serious updates from big news organizations. But if you follow morons, yeah, Twitter will be moronic.
As for photos, Instagram wins. It’s simply a better experience in every way—visually, ease of use, capabilities—than posting pictures to Facebook. I almost never put photos on Facebook now, or when I do, it’s a single photo, not a group, and it’s often from Instagram—you see the irony. Yes, people tease Instagram, and ridicule the democratization of photography that the service represents (“oh look, how cute, everyone thinks they’re a great photographer now”), but no one can deny that it’s just plain fucking fun. It’s more fun to take just one photo from a party or a night out and run it through the filters, play around with lighting, and share it than it is to post an entire album of mostly uninteresting shots to Facebook.
I find that people behave differently on Instagram: for the most part, they know that it’s not cool to comment, that it sort of ruins the clean look. Instead, you just double-tap, give it the heart, move on. Instagram also feels more intimate; post something to Facebook and no one feels any hesitation to click “like,” even people from high school that you haven’t spoken to in five years. But on Instagram, unless a photo really gets a ton of love, it’s more stark and obvious when you “like” something. Look: there’s your username, right there, alone at first, very visible and vulnerable. You know the person will see it and think of you. It’s like a little hello.
I enjoy picking and choosing what to “like.” There are a few people that follow me that like nearly every photo I post, which is nice but sort of lame, whereas I tend to really only click like when I think a photo is visually compelling. And while some may never do this, I often click back into “Photos you’ve liked” and scroll through, enjoying the best ones again. There are people who are simply amazing on Instagram, most of them professional photographers, which makes it harder for people to mock the site—if those who know what they’re doing with a real camera are just as strong with a phone, I guess the thing does its job, right? (Might I suggest following Daniella Zalcman, Jesse Burke, Noah Kalina, and Ed Kashi, just to name a few.) I use Twitter like a river that you can step into and out of (I don’t refresh it all the time, I go two or three days without tweeting, and I don’t worry about what I missed) and Instagram is the same way, though I follow far fewer people and thus don’t miss many photos, even if I only check out my feed every couple of days. I don’t much mind that Instagram has created public profiles, because they haven’t (yet) implemented any annoying forced features; instead it’s literally just a static page online that displays your pictures. And the news about the company using your photos in ads doesn’t bother me, either, though it has lost them some users. If they can find some commercial purpose for an amateur photo I took of my fucking breakfast, be my guest. (I suppose, then, that it is the talented, professional photogs who might be pissed off.) I won’t be shocked if the Facebook overlord eventually makes it so that your Instagram and Facebook accounts are linked without your choosing, and all the Insta photos you take get pushed to your wall no matter what, and on that day I’ll quit using the fun little Polaroid-maker, but for now they’re separate enough that I enjoy Instagram free of Facebook’s obnoxious features.
I’m interested, also, in what content people most choose to share on Instagram. For the most part, I think people use it for photos of objects or the outdoors, anything but people, whereas Facebook is where you go for just that: photos of you and your friends partying or doing something together. I may be an exception, because as I scroll through my own photos about half of them have people in them, but when I look back at the photos I’ve given the heart to, the vast majority are scenes, not human beings (well, also a lot of animals). A lone basketball court in black and white. A cityscape with muted car lights. A huge, colorful tree in fall. And so on.
Then, of course, there are various other specialized sites that I find useful for one or two things only. My WordPress blog (the thing you’re visiting right now) I use for longer posts like this one, or book reviews, etc. My tumblr blog is for quick-hit content only, like a funny video, a song I like, or a meme photo, all presented without comment. I like Kickstarter for funding exciting creative endeavors (over its competitors, like Indiegogo). I prefer Vimeo to YouTube for posting videos to share privately with friends or family. (It just plain looks prettier, doesn’t it?) I have LinkedIn for I don’t know what. (Seriously, what is LinkedIn for? It’s often called Facebook for professionals, but on Facebook, if a stranger requests me, it’s creepy and I click no; on LinkedIn, the vast majority of people that add me are strangers, and yet I almost never reject, because who cares if they can see where I’ve worked?) I like everything in its silo, and I’ll resist the behemoth that Facebook is becoming for as long as I can.