Facebook

2013-06-27

I don't like Facebook. That will not come as a surprise to you. But what I didn't expect, was that the feeling is mutual.

You may wonder what is wrong with Facebook. All they do is allow you to write things that can be read by your friends, right? Wrong. They filter all that information. They choose which messages you get to see easily, and which are hidden away so deep you won't ever see them unless you go look. And given the amount of information, you will not go look. So they get to decide which news you read. They can change how people think the world looks with these choices. Effectively, they can change the world.

Now I'm not against dictatorship in general, and if they would use this power for good, I'd be happy with it (even if worried about future abuse). But they don't. The people who rule Facebook are political right wing extremists. They have strong views on how the world should look, and use Facebook for making them come true.

Another problem I have with Facebook is their advertisments. The system is set up in such a way that you cannot avoid them. Advertisers get to see that people are republishing their ads to others, which leads to them saying "If you share this, you can win $1000". And then my news summary gets filled with messages of people who want to win something, instead of people who want to tell me something. I want to read the latter, I am not interested in the former. But Facebook doesn't let me choose not to see them, except by blocking the person entirely (blocking the advertiser is not possible).

Even worse, advertisers can pay for messages which are shown in my news summary as "your friend X likes company Y and they have this advertisment". Again, the only way I can block them is by blocking the friend entirely, which is usually too high a price for me.

And if this isn't bad enough, they abuse their power even more. Even in private messages, which are sent to one person only, they interfere. I've seen before that they asked me to prove I'm a human when I was sending a link to a bare IP address. Since that is typically something for a spammer to do, there may be some sense to that, but on the other hand if you have a spammer as a friend you shouldn't expect anything else, and if a spammer has taken over your friend's account, they have bigger problems than not being able to send a private message. But even if not particularly effective or smart, this isn't a big problem. I can copy some badly readable words from an image, and I don't mind if it doesn't happen too often.

However, recently something else happened which really shocked me. I was having a nice normal (private) conversation, and suddenly it refused to send one of my messages. In some messages, I could understand why, but this one really didn't have any special words at all in them. It was something like "Isn't that where they use ipads instead of books?" But oh well, I didn't care much; I just tried sending it again. At that point, I was kicked off the site. When trying to reconnect, they told me I had to give them my phone number. Now I thought they already had too much private information about me. So I won't do that. Also, I don't even have a phone, so I can't do it; they say they may also accept a copy of my passport if I ask them nicely. It will not come as a surprise that I'm not going to. They can keep their site. I'll use something else instead.

The alternatives

But what can I use? There is http://identi.ca, but it's a free version of Twitter, not Facebook. I think there isn't really a free Facebook alternative. Plus I don't really want to use Facebook for its "core" features; I want it mostly for chatting.

I have been thinking a bit about all this, and my work has brought me a solution. I'm currently writing a web interface to control a syringe pump. For this, I'm using WebSockets; they allow the server to notify the browser when something happens (in this case, the pump could be controlled from a different browser and I want to be notified). Unlike other methods of communication on the web, there is no limit as to which destination a WebSocket may have (it doesn't have to be on the same server). That feature lead to an idea for a messaging system, which might well replace Facebook.

I'm still in the process of designing it (give me some time; I just had the idea yesterday), but the main feature is that everyone has to arrange for their own hosting. So there is no central server; if somebody wants a feature which allows the advertising junk that Facebook brings, that doesn't cause me to see it. Private messages are only sent to your own server, which sends them directly to the recipient; no content filters are possible.

Arranging your own hosting may sound like a big thing for many people, so I intend to allow people to share a host. So you don't need to have your own web host; you only need to know someone who does. Of course, if you don't trust that someone, you're in the Facebook-situation again; the person controlling the host can inspect and control all data that you're transferring through it. So only use the host of a person you trust.

When WebRTC enters mainline browsers, I'll probably add support for audio and video conferencing as well. Or someone else adds it and I use it. After all, I'm just publishing a communication protocol and an example implementation.

Anyway, it may still be some time before all this is a reality. So I'll be slightly less reachable for a while. But it's not that bad: I still read me e-mail, and you can chat with me using my XMPP (jabber) server I wrote about before. And if you want to write to me in a way that everybody can see, you can post a reply here on the weblog.

So I hope to hear from you again soon.

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