10 July 2011

Why Facebook sucks

Now that people are starting to migrate from Facebook to Google Plus, I see a lot of people asking, apparently seriously, what’s wrong with Facebook. Given that Facebook is hated as much as airlines, it seems likely that the site has few dedicated fans willing to stick around when everyone else leaves. I’m certainly not one of them, and here’s why.

Facebook insists that you get a new e-mail inbox, which you can only access from Facebook. You can get e-mail notifications in your existing e-mail, but to reply you still have to go to Facebook. I don’t want another inbox, especially not a proprietary one. In Google Plus, the button to send a private message can be disabled, allowed only for certain people, and can forward to any e-mail inbox you want.

Facebook insists that you get a new instant messaging ID, which you can only use to talk to other Facebook users. I don’t want another proprietary IM ID. Google Plus uses Google Talk, which is based on the Internet standard XMPP and is federated with Jabber and AIM so you can talk to people on those networks too.

Facebook won’t let you export your friends’ contact information or sync it with your phone. Google, in contrast, offers Google Takeout to export everything, and also offers full contact sync via an open API.

Facebook is signing up with Microsoft and Skype to implement their voice and video chat. Skype is a closed proprietary protocol, deliberately obfuscated and encrypted to make it impossible for anyone else to interoperate with it. In contrast, Google document their additions to the standard XMPP video and audio protocols, and state their belief that people should have a free choice of competing clients.

Facebook have slowly and deliberately eroded users’ privacy. While Google has had a few privacy failings (principally with Buzz, which I didn’t use), they are far better than Facebook in this area.

Facebook is buggy. I routinely see a different news feed depending on whether I use the app on my phone or the main web site.

Google Plus’s “circles” are simple to set up and simple to use. The equivalent functionality in Facebook is hard to find and a pain to set up. (At the time of writing, you create a list as follows: Click “Friends” in left menu, “Edit Friends” top right, click “Create a List” top right, find a person by typing their name into the search box, click the drop down to the right of the search result, and click the name of the list you created. To use a list, you must then click the lock under a posting you’re writing, click Customize, under “Make this visible to” select “Specific People…”, in the text box type the name of the list you created, and click “Save Setting”.) Whether this is just bad UI design or a deliberate attempt to make the process painful so people don’t do it, I don’t know.

Want more reasons to dislike Facebook? Check out Wikipedia’s criticism of Facebook article, particularly the section on censorship. The latest victim is Roger Ebert.

And then there’s Mark Zuckerberg himself, and his attitude to privacy issues in the early days. Businesses’ cultural attitudes tend to flow from the top down.

As a final note, I’m not an absolutist. I recognize that there are things Google has done wrong, and things they continue to do wrong. However, moving from Facebook to Google Plus seems to me to be overall greatly positive, from the point of view of privacy, openness, access to data, and general levels of evil. When something even better comes along, I’ll consider moving to it. Until then, I’m done posting on Facebook, though I’ll keep reading it for the time being.

I’m also sure there are people who will keep using Facebook, and not use Google Plus. There are probably people still using MySpace and refusing to use Facebook too. That’s their decision, and they’re welcome to it, but it’s not going to affect my decision.

© mathew 2017