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Rupert Duffy Headshot

Time to leave Facebook? You decide

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[insert name here] is downscaling to old school email and phone only.
Please use name@here.com or 07555 555 555 x

- a friend's last status update, July 2011

This article is about a feeling rather than facts. There are plenty of facts out there that you can use in whatever way you want, but I'm writing about a feeling that I had for a while that I couldn't put my finger on. Then it crystallised when three friends left Facebook independently of each other within a couple of weeks. It also appeared that a lot of my friends were using Facebook less, and that business pages and likes were filling up the gaps where my friends once were. Somewhere in amongst those updates that are regularly forced upon us, the platform became more commercial and less personal.

There are several things that Facebook has done that have helped to drive away users. Initially it was the apps that spammed your friends list, then the proliferation of FarmVille and other stupid games. Fortunately Facebook came up with ways that you could turn off such annoying notifications and it went back to being about more meaningful sharing with friends.

Facebook has always come across as caring little about protecting the privacy of it's users. What has really irritated me is the constant tweaking of settings that require you to be ahead of the game when it comes to protecting your own privacy. Another annoying recent trend that I have noticed is being added as a fan of pages when I never actually clicked the like button. Considering how fans or likes have become such an important commodity to marketers, false figures could have major commercial ramifications. But despite that how did these companies come to breach my security, and what does this mean in the wider context of my Facebook privacy? Worrying, to say the least.

In the last year or so Facebook have tinkered with the very essence of the platform - the news feed. 'Top news' from 'friends and pages that you interact most with' became the default view, rather than than 'recent posts' appearing from the top down. Handy for those with plenty of active friends, but the fact that Facebook didn't inform users that this change was happening made many news feeds resemble ghost towns complete with tumbleweeds (old news that had been blowing around for days).

The like button is Facebook's greatest innovation. Combined with pages it has become a boon to marketers, advertisers and businesses large and small. These likes can turn your news feed into a customisable source of information, but since business has jumped in it feels like the whole thing has become more commodity driven, and therefore less personal. As the product has evolved it has risked tipping the balance away from the needs of the average user.

Then of course there are other forms of social media that are attracting more and more users. I still haven't worked out whether Google+ is coming or going, but Twitter's reach seems to be growing. It's simplicity makes it superior in many ways to Facebook, and because I can follow whoever I like, the quality and diversity of links seems to be that much greater than what my friends provide.

I have since learnt that the reason that my friends left Facebook was they felt it had become too shallow, too distracting and was devoid of any real meaning in their daily lives. In my own life, Facebook holds an important place as a way of both keeping in touch with people and keeping abreast of news and trends, but the implicit trust that was once there is rapidly fading.

Facebook relies on our participation as well as our goodwill for survival. I accept that it is a business rather than a service, and as such exists to turn a profit. The commercial elements of the platform are here to stay, and in many ways they can be useful and informative. But the minute that the balance switches away from the general user and I feel that my privacy has become over-compromised is the minute that I will grab that virtual dagger and commit my own Facebook harakiri.