Sunday, February 24, 2008

How To Break Your Social Network

It seems that the media have finally gotten around to reporting about the fact that those who sign up for social networking sites are essentially signing away their privacy rights. Of course, this has been met with a collective "Well Durr!" from any discerning users of such sites.

Me? I'm hoping that the media is catching up with the rest of the class just as the momentum of the social networking juggernaut begins to level off. We're all well aware that the seemingly innocuous and mundane personal details that one fills in are being used by big evil corporations to read our mind, but that doesn't really upset anyone. Fewer of us are aware that files uploaded to these sites become the property of the big evil corporation that owns it, and most are now worried that their proclivities for hard partyin' (G left out for emphasis) and hard drinkin' (ditto) will become publically accessible knowledge that will stop them working for some big evil corporation down the line.

Little of this has much to do with what I'm about to talk about though; I just felt like setting the scene.

I'm just sick of the ever-increasing greed these social networks are exhibiting. Third-party applications, in particular are making the utilisation of these sites an absolute chore. Facebook introduced these some time ago, and since then Bebo have jumped on the bandwagon. In theory, these applications generate more features and allow the user a greater degree of customisation, but in practice, they clutter up a profile and grind the user’s patience down to a nub as they try to access the modicum of information they’re actually interested in.

I recently received this invitation for ‘Which 1950’s Pin Up Girl are you?”. Ignoring the flagrant abuse of the once noble apostrophe, I have to ask; could this not be done via a simple link to a quiz on an external, old fashioned webpage, like we did in years gone by? Is it really worth the hassle of signing up for five minutes of inane distraction, agreeing to the Terms of Service that you won’t read and losing legal ownership of your liver over? It could be my fear of commitment speaking, but I’m not very keen to endorse something like that on my profile page for the rest of my facebooking life.

Furthermore, I’m almost entirely sure that this invitation was given to me not because my friend thought it was exactly the kind of thing I’m interested in, but rather because the process of not sending it to me proved unwieldy. Obviously, these products need to be tested, vetted and approved by a governing body before being thrust before 64million users and told to play nice. Have a look at the options I was presented with when offered the app in question:

How dare they exploit my human folly! Of course if I see a button labelled ‘don’t click here’, it’s the first thing my disembodied hand-with-permanently-extended-index-finger is going to want to depress! Of course, for the sake of blog research, I decided to click it, and sure enough, as soon as I committed the deed, four of its friends grabbed me, pulled a bag over my head, and threw me in a van to take me to the sign-up page.

Appalling. If they had included some cute little gimmick for clicking the button, all would be well and good, but to deliberately mislabel something? To lie, on the internet? Heresy!
Another disgusting trend of Bebo and Facebook is that more and more ‘sponsored content’ is appearing, which is fine – us veteran internet users have learnt to ignore advertisements. But sneaking ads into the page where we overview the recent activity of our friends is a bit much.

Julia? Do I know you? What? I’m sorry love, but I couldn’t give a flying fuck about group hugs between people who are being paid to group hug. I also don’t care much for, or their employment policies.

Imaginary friends who appear in your Friend Updates is pretty sinister stuff, but the really irritating stuff is the banner ads at the top of the page, which kills a considerable amount of the joy that the personal skin I made gives me (look at it - it's glorious)! This example serves impinges on all of my complaints before: it’s on Bebo despite obviously being designed to look like it belongs on Facebook, it’s an obnoxious ad that impairs on your enjoyment, it pretends to be your mail system, and as a bonus, it molests the English language in the process (well - cops a pervy feel at least).

Click for a better look - it's worth it, I promise!

The solution is quite unremarkable, particularly with regards to third-party apps; moderation. Draft up a list of rules – restrict ads that masquerade as part of the site; assume that the user doesn’t automatically wish to spam everybody they know with app invites; only green light the apps of merit to keep the lazily constructed vessels for ads out of the picture, and finally; make provision for a greater degree of community policing.

These recent developments in social networking sites has me logging on less and less, which I’m sure hurts their bottom line, since I spent less time looking at their obnoxious ads. During my weekly logins to stalk the few remaining friends I have, it becomes increasingly more tempting to click what should be a very red and very shiny button.

I'm hoping that the recent bad publicity that these sites have been getting, coupled with a disgruntled community that voices their disdain at the way things are going will change matters, but I doubt it. The implications of exiling oneself from a powerful social-tool are far greater than I'm willing to put up with.

When I inevitably make a pariah of myself, it'll be in a much more dramatic fashion, and will possibly involve a public setting, a violent expulsion of bodily effluvia, 16 eunuchs coated in oil-based lubricant, and a mallard... Better make that two mallards.


Heelan said...

Hapyholly4 said...

Sully I totally thought you would want to know what 1950's pin-up girl you are. I really did. Now I will go cry since you have publicly shamed me for simply trying to give you an avenue to express that side of yourself.

Ultan. said...

alright chief, just been perusing your house of whinge & I must say I like, I like - rants aplenty!

Anyway I linked to your bebo page and, after seeing your skin there, thought you might like this, if you haven't already come across it -