Goodbye Facebook, Hello Goodreads

by Sunita

I’ve blogged before about my general lack of enthusiasm for Facebook. I’ve had an account there for a couple of years, and I’ve found high school and college friends through it. Elementary school friends from Bombay have even found me! And I’ve used it to keep tabs on my farther-flung relatives. But I’ve never spent much time on Facebook, and its privacy issues have made me uncomfortable. The latest “innovations,” Frictionless Sharing and the new Timeline, have finally done me in. I put my FB account on hiatus and am about to go through the tedious and complicated steps necessary to delete it forever. (I also deleted my Google+ account, but no one cares about that.)

Frictionless sharing, if you haven’t been paying attention (or don’t want to, or don’t care) is the new method by which you tell everyone in the world what you are doing. Of particular relevance for readers is that every time you go to a website that has enabled social integration with Facebook, you can click a button and your Facebook timeline will note every article or post you read on the site. It’s supposed to replace the “like” button, another feature I’ve resolutely ignored.

There are any number of problems with the new Timeline and sharing policies. For people with a desire to maintain whatever is left of the rapidly eroding public-private boundary, it’s just one more thing to worry about. For me, it’s bad enough that Facebook keeps me logged in unless I explicitly log out, and every Facebook-enabled site (which is most of them) wants me to use my FB account to do something when I’m there. But now it wants to follow me around the web and report back to the big wide world.

I think what I find most surprising about the current discussions about social media is that while people understand the privacy implications, they don’t seem to understand the commodification implications. Why should the Washington Post care what articles you read? Why do they want you to tell your Facebook friends that you’re reading them? Because then they can tell their advertisers. Newspapers, magazines, and other print-to-online media are desperate to monetize their readership, and every piece of evidence you provide helps them do that. The more information they can give advertisers about their readership the happier advertisers will be, and the more they can be charged.¹

I want news organizations to stay in business. Really, I do. But I want my life to belong to me, as opposed to a for-profit company, even more. These aren’t just “social” media anymore; they’re “advertising” and “networked” media. We pay for our ability to communicate with each other via these sites by giving away our privacy. For some people that’s a worthwhile tradeoff. For me, not so much.

And yet, I joined Goodreads. Another social media site. Why? Because I want to be able to write short or long reviews of books whether I review them at Dear Author or not, and the conversations there look interesting. They range widely, from large discussion groups to small threads. While there is no shortage of author- and reader-behaving-badly behavior over there, I’m hoping I can avoid the idiocy and concentrate on the benefits.

I’ve rated about 150 books so far and a number of them have reviews attached. I’ll be adding to the list gradually. If there are specific books for which you’d like to see reviews, let me know in the comments. And of course, as always, feel free to go over and agree or disagree with my ratings and reviews.

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¹I realize that newspapers and other media have always cared about me first and foremost as a target of advertising. But I used to be part of a general mass of readers, distinguishable perhaps by my census-tract location. Now I am commodified at a much more individually specific level. That’s an ad-buy too far for me.
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