The Internet is a big place.

Sometimes it feels so big that we get tired of exploring, ploughing through endless fields of data, looking for fertile ground to build our businesses and grow personal relationships.

Which makes us look for that comfortable corner, a familiar place where we meet our friends. And can return to many times a day.

Welcome to the world of Facebook. A 500+ million userbase, but a corner of the Internet, nevertheless.

Free Residency For Everyone

We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet! – Sean Parker, The Social Network

We can dispute whether it is good that people live online. But that train has already left. Much of the world’s population is already living online, uploading photos of their puppies and family reunions as if there was no tomorrow.

Social Media has made it so easy to share our daily life, moment by moment, that many times the sharing becomes our daily life.

This is where Facebook comes in.

If the Internet is a foreign country, Facebook gives everyone a free visa and what seems to be your personalized virtual real-estate: Your Profile. It is the entry card to the Facebook Empire where you can read what your friends are doing, follow bands and brands, upload photos and write your own “blog” (Facebook Notes).

In short: Facebook is its own “ecosystem”. It has its own laws, rules and regulations. It’s like an Internet within the Internet.

But it’s not the Internet. I’ve written before about the problem of confusing the two.

Only after this is clear can we make the most of it. First, let’s look at the business side of it. Feel free to skip this section and jump right to the end.

Business Opportunities

If you are doing business online, you probably already have a Facebook presence. If not, it’s about time to get one. Check out this comprehensive guide by Copyblogger.

Facebook is great for doing business. You can engage prospective clients and customers or simply spread the word and do networking in what is generally called your “niche”. So, whether you are a freelance language teacher or a used-cars salesman, get yourself a Facebook Page (in addition to your Profile) and learn to use it the right way. If you need help with technical details or strategies, again, check out the Copyblogger guide. They know how to explain it better than myself.

So, let’s say you have built a great Facebook page with all the bells and whistles. Thousands of likes. Dozens of comments daily. Once in a while you get someone who calls the phone number you listed under “Info” and asks about your product or service. You start to make a bit of business here and there.

It takes a lot of time to maintain your Facebook page. You have to respond to questions. Delete the spammers. Write updates.

And the more time and effort you invest, a nagging thought is beginning to take hold in the back of your mind. “What if I lose my page?” – “What will happen to all the hard work I put into it?”

  • there is no backup function
  • you have no option to export your contacts
  • if Facebook gets nuked (for whatever reason) your page goes down with it
  • if someone gets access to your profile and deletes your page, it’s gone for good
  • Also, apart from certain customizations you have no control how the page appears
  • Facebook will suddenly change things and has done so many times
  • If you try to contact customer support, good luck.

This is of course every online publisher’s nightmare. To lose everything in a freak accident. Nobody is safe from it, be it inside or outside the Walled Garden of Facebook.

But I said above that Facebook is great for doing business, no?

It certainly is. But only as an addition to your personal webpage. Contrary to what some people say, Facebook has not and will not “kill the webpage”.

It’s a matter of perspective. You can build a great Facebook page but it’s not enough. First and foremost you need a great webpage! It might involve a bit more learning and a bit of costs for your personal domain and webspace: There’s no excuse to settle for a .wordpress, .blogspot or other free subdomain. If you’re serious and believe in what you do, you will find ways to get the ~5 dollars per month it takes to run your own basic server somewhere. It’s the cost of a coffee. Hopefully you consider yourself worth more than that! Think about it. This is your own real-estate. You can do on your webpage whatever you like (as long as you don’t break any serious laws). You have complete control over how your site looks and how it works. You can change it anytime you like. You can backup and save all your data so that when something goes wrong, you can pick up just where you left!

A Facebook page can not replace that.

To summarize, one of the commenters on the above-mentioned guide put it perfectly:

Facebook isn’t a place to build a business. It’s a place to attract traffic back to your own site and business.

Home Sweet Home

Even if you aren’t doing business online, you should not give Facebook too much importance. Sure, there are friends there who comment on what you do or give you “likes” – they give you attention! – but as we all know, it can become quite addictive.

On the other hand, nothing is worse than having a lonely blog somewhere that noones visits, right?

“On Facebook, at least people care about what I do!”

This is the impression. But it comes at a price:

  • Reactivity over Creativity: The Facebook experience doesn’t encourage creating new stuff. It encourages commenting and liking. There is the option to write Notes but it’s laughable compared to what you can do with any free blogging system like WordPress or Blogger because you have virtually no control over how it shows up in the end! Sick of that Facebook blue? Want to change the font or font-size? Good luck.
  • If you use it too much you will begin to feel that you’re living your life as a spectator. If you’re uploading too many photos and writing too many updates on what you’re eating that’s a sure sign of it. Your life is becoming a spectacle. People react. While you turn into a ghost.
  • Automization: Over-use of Facebook makes people mechanistic. It’s already problematic enough that we’re dealing with machines all day long but in Zuckerberg’s Empire your very relationships to your family and friends are becoming mechanic nodes in the Facebook Machine. It’s an either/or world. Either you are friends. Or you are not. Either you like, or you don’t. Over-use of those systems creates grooves in our brains, mental patterns and we come to think and behave accordingly. But the complex dynamics of human relationships can never be reduced to a binary either/or principle.

The idea behind things like Facebook rests on certain worldviews and patterns of thinking.

At the core of it is the notion that humanity is a system. Like a machine. Therefore all of humanity’s actions must be able to be described and understood from a systems view. It’s the Geek’s Ultimate Dream!

This has become such an ingrained way of thinking that it’s hard to even detect. If you want to find out more about it I recommend watching Adam Curtis’ “All Watched Over by Machines Of Loving Grace”

To summarize, I don’t think it’s necessary or even possible to live a media-abstinent life. Avoidance is not a solution.

Instead, I would recommend a more eclectic approach.

In short: Always use different media and approaches in a well-balanced mix. This will keep you from over-reliance. If you do business online, focus on your homepage and use things like Facebook in a peripheral way.

If you want to share photos don’t just dump your private life into the black hole of Facebook. Go to Flickr, get feedback on photography techniques, allow others to use your photos for their projects (if you like) – If you want to write, open a free WordPress blog. If you’re fascinated by status-updates, use Twitter.

In any case, don’t let only one system dominate the way you spend your time online!

And, if you think I have something against Facebook per se, I don’t, even if I agree with much of what Trent Reznor said about it. It does what it does. And that’s okay. It’s simply that when certain systems are becoming too big we tend to not see the wood for the trees. And instead of questioning the dictate of user-experience we silently accept it as “the way things are”.

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