Kara Swisher Interviews Mark Zuckerberg

Kara Swisher Interviews Mark Zuckerberg

John Gruber, at Daring Fireball, from his comment on an extract from the interview:

They’re offering a powerful platform that reaches the entire world to lunatics who, in the pre-internet age, were relegated to handing out mimeographs while spouting through a megaphone on a street corner.

The internet has been a greatly democratizing force. You can now share your ideas with anyone anywhere in the world nearly instantaneously. Even China, with a specialized, centralized, actively censored network cannot completely stop people from bypassing their controls to share information. There are, effectively, no gatekeepers who can reliably prevent you from getting your words out to the world.

There’s literally nothing stopping you or anyone else from creating your own web page. Twenty years ago when I was a broke college student I went dumpster diving and cobbled together parts into an experimental Franken-Mac. You can make your own web server out of actual garbage if you want to.

If someone wants to do the internet equivalent of wearing a sandwich board proclaiming “THE END IS NIGH”, they can do it in any number of ways. That’s more or less what Time Cube did until the page’s creator died in 2015.

I am a strong free speech proponent, to the point that I’ve said in the past, “I may think you’re a fucking asshole who doesn’t deserve to share the same oxygen other human beings breathe, but I’ll still fight to the death for your right to express your ideas in public.”

Protecting free speech is not the same thing as providing a platform for that speech. Facebook is not “the internet”, it’s only one large social network; a blue whale in an ocean of information.

It doesn’t matter whether Holocaust deniers believe what they’re saying or not. It doesn’t matter whether the “just asking questions” crowd is actually making an argument in good faith (spoiler: they aren’t). You aren’t obligated to give them a place to speak. Your only obligation is to protect their right to express their ideas in a publicly available forum. The creation of that forum is their responsibility.

There is no reason for Zuckerberg’s company to provide the internet equivalent of a stage, microphone, and TV camera crew to every crank who has an account on Facebook.

What is the Internet?

Leo Mirani for Quartz: Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet

Remember this, from earlier this year?

AOL still makes most of its money off millions of dial-up subscribers

In light of the number of people who are still using dial-up access through AOL, even though there are almost certainly better alternatives available1, the lack of awareness many people worldwide show about what constitutes “the internet” should probably not be surprising.

For millions of Americans in the 90s, AOL was the internet, and considering the subscription numbers reported in that article from early 2015, it is almost certainly still considered the internet by those users. And this is in a first-world country with relatively affordable access to data and at least some formal education about technology. In parts of the world with less access to data, where Facebook actively subsidizes internet access through their portal, it should not be shocking that many people don’t draw a distinction, because for them there may not be one.

Facebook’s strategy is surprisingly similar to AOL’s, but much larger in scope. AOL sent CDs with free software and trial codes to everyone in the US. Facebook is doing the contemporary equivalent by subsidizing data on mobile in developing countries. Facebook stands to gain a huge audience worldwide for generations of user adoptions. It’s a very smart strategic use of resources, and seems to be beneficial for everyone involved.

At least for right now. Unlike Google, Facebook has never adopted an aspirational mantra, and we see how well that whole “don’t be evil” thing has been working for Google. Even the best of intentions erode over time.

  1. Maybe not surprising at all, considering how hard it seems to be to cancel an account

Facebook Instant Articles

From a NY Times article published in May:

Facebook’s long-rumored plan to directly host articles from news organizations will start on Wednesday, concluding months of delicate negotiations between the Internet giant and publishers that covet its huge audience but fear its growing power …

… Most important for impatient smartphone users, the company says, the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site.

The last thing I wanted in my Facebook feed was more news articles, so the technical improvement of faster load times does not benefit me in the slightest. The only reason I ever go to Facebook is to see what’s going on with family members. I already have to sort through the listicles, quizzes, and “surveys” that are shared on Facebook to get to their posts. Anything that makes it harder for me to see actual activity from the people I know is just more clutter.

Granted, given the quality of what is usually shared, it will probably be more interesting, higher-brow clutter, but still clutter. I had already started skipping over the regular timeline to exclusively check messages and alerts on the infrequent occasions I visited Facebook. Increasing clutter will make me less likely to bother looking through my timeline since I know it will be about as rewarding as looking though an email inbox with spam filtering disabled.

I can see the appeal for publishers, since most of the public is not as discerning jaded and cantankerous as me, and there are 1.25 billion active users on Facebook.

Let that sink in; that’s active users, as in people who actually log in and use Facebook on a monthly or more frequent basis. There must be many more registered users than 1.25 billion, since active use is typically much, much lower than registration.

That’s a metric asstonne[1] of people. The active users alone represent 17% of the current world population of 7.3 billion, so by the numbers, theoretically nearly 1 in 5 of people on the entire planet use Facebook right now. And it’s still growing.

The problem for publishers is that joining any social network is hazardous in the long term. Letting someone else publish your content means that you both relinquish control and eventually become a commodity on that platform. When you are one of several sources for a similar service, it becomes simple and easy to replace you if you decide not to participate anymore. Should Facebook later decide to play hardball, and The Times opt-out of publishing on Facebook’s platform, even they — with their strong reputation and mind-share in news — probably wouldn’t be particularly missed.

News publishing is in flux, and it’s increasingly clear that the older publishers are facing very difficult circumstances. Ironically, this consolidation approach was already tried on the internet in the past, and was generally resisted by the public.

Remember the buzz around web portals in the early days of the public internet? It’s one of the reasons AOL became infamous online, when their membership campaigns[2] resulted in floods of clueless “newbies” who knew naught of online etiquette honed on usenet in countless flamewars.

Becoming the latest implementation of a webportal is probably a good long-term strategy for Facebook, but it places it about a half-step in stodginess from “You’ve got mail!” territory. Hell, the only reason I got a Facebook account was due to social pressure from older family members. It was already losing enough social cachet a few years ago, when I finally caved, that a dude in his mid–30s didn’t think it was the cool new tech thing.

  1. Equal to 1.102 Imperial asstons, but substantially smaller than a Goatse.  ↩

  2. Kids: ask your parents to tell about the “free” frisbees and drink coasters AOL used to send to to everyone’s houses.  ↩

Social Media

Social networks are designed around who you are and who you know. They’re for 24/7 contact with your family, classmates, friends, bosses, coworkers, ex-classmates, ex-bosses, ex-coworkers, ex-friends, ex-family, and exes, in a medium that doesn’t leave much room for humanity, filtering, subtlety, and nuance. Some people love it; I only see the irrelevance, drama, and baggage that comes with it, and being politically impossible to un-“friend” many of them.

As a teenager, I escaped from these real-life people, problems, and social statuses to the internet — the last thing I wanted was to be surrounded by them there, too.

Marco Arment, referring to “A Teenager’s View on Social Media”. Unlike Marco, I didn’t see using the internet (or in my case, pre-internet BBSs) as an escape, but a way to connect with people I had more in common with. I completely agree with his assessment of social networks, though.

The good points about the major social networks in Andrew Watts’ article are far too numerous to quote. Just go read it, and then take a look at his follow up on a grab-bag of other social media.

Though I’m far away from being a teenager, I agree with nearly everything he said about why Facebook is ubiquitous, but painful to use. I have a Facebook account only because social obligations virtually force me to have it. I check my feed about once or twice a week, at most. I rarely post anything. The exception here is that I do sometimes post family pictures, which I restrict to family members and very few select friends in my privacy settings.

No one in my family or ex-whatevers cares about anything I care about. I have virtually none of the same interests as anyone I knew in my past. I don’t want to share anything that has any meaning in my life with most of my “friends” on Facebook. I’ve ignored quite a few friend requests, and have blocked a couple of people whose feeds were unexpectedly filled with unfiltered nastiness or stupidity. I quickly found that if I have lost contact with the people in my past, it’s usually for a really good reason.

I could maintain contact with my family through other channels, including “meatspace” ones, but they apparently would rather use (and thereby pressure me to use) a shitty invasive service with constantly varying privacy rules and a proprietary interest in personal lives. (Oh, did I mention that, while I love my family, I don’t get along particularly well with most of them?)

Instead of exchanging email or phone numbers, new people I meet lately seem to prefer using Facebook[1]. Why? Probably because:

  1. It’s easy and nearly ubiquitous.
  2. It maintains some social distance in case you turn out to be a nutter.
  3. It’s not that hard for you to unfriend someone you don’t have significant social ties to already (see: 2, above).
  4. It’s a good way to see what kind of things a new person is interested in, assuming their feed isn’t completely based on a bullshit public persona (see: 2, above).
  5. It consolidates contacts into a single service.

My experience with the major social services seems to correlate pretty well with this:

LinkedIn is for people you know. Facebook is for people you used to know. Twitter is for people you want to know — (possibly originated with João Sanches)

… except that very few of the people I know in Japan have any idea that LinkedIn even exists.

  1. Mixi used to be the predominant social service — see Mobile Internet in Japan for some discussion about how Japanese mobile practices made using many Japanese social services cumbersome or impossible for people with non-Japanese handsets. Facebook surpassed Mixi a couple of years after I wrote that article and, surprise-surprise, part of the reason for that change was attributed to foreign-hostile design.  ↩