In just a few short weeks, more digital ink has been spilled over the distrust Facebook has engendered with its 400 million users than probably all the critiques ever written about the Bible. So why aren't people leaving the network in droves? Well, a number of social media superstars and a site called "We're Quitting Facebook on May 31" indicate that many are. But for others, the question remains, “Where do we go from here?”
While Facebook is a business and data-mining is a valuable monetization tool to generate a significant ROI, I think what most users object to is the irony of the situation. While Mark Zuckerberg is trying to sell us on "openness" and "transparency," his motives are less than "open" and "transparent."
Facebook's objectives are to sell advertising, outGoogle Google and become a dominant force in controlling the Internet. His means to that end is to "Pied Piper" his loyal followers into buying into the Open Graph. His character flaw is lack of a moral compass and his naivete led him to believe his user-base were not savvy enough to understand what was coming down. So not only was he dishonest, he underestimated his audience.
With that said, if we are so entrenched in social networking that the mere thought of not having Facebook in our lives is cause for anxiety, perhaps its time to weigh our options. Some of the alternatives that respect privacy and allow users to retain the rights to their content are new on the scene. Others have been around for a while. And if you don't want to jump the Facebook ship just yet, test these other platforms before making that big decision. (note: At the end of the blog, please participate in our POLLS, and let us know what you think.).
Not all social networks have to be serious. At least that is the working principle behind Gink. Sketch troupe Derrick Comedy approaches social networking with a Google-like name and a heck of a lot of parody. Described as the next-next-generation of social networks, according to its promo pitch, "Gink is a fun, made-up word that combines the words gibble and spink, both of which are also made up."
Barb Dybwad from Mashable describes it as "simultaneously parodying the proliferation of social networks and the dizzying array of specialized terminology that often comes with them, Gink goes off the deep end with an assortment of seriously delivered gibberish that would make Dr. Seuss proud."
Totally unique from any other social networking enterprise that has come before, join CollegeHumor and earn some 'gink' points to boot.
Diaspora* is currently under development by the creative minds of four enterprising NYU students who think the world could do with a social networking service that won't treat your personal information like advertiser catnip.
The central premise is to replicate the Facebook user experience that’s proven popular (until recent date), but to allow the Diaspora social network to be available on users’ own personal Web servers -- called “seeds.” This differs from Facebook's centralized user interface that claims ownership of users’ content and marketable data while running roughshod over their privacy data.
At the rate at which Diaspora is growing and gaining funding, if it continues at its current pace, it might be the Facebook alternative many ex-FBers are looking for.
According to a Techcrunch report, whether Diaspora succeeds or not is yet to be seen. The coding for the project won’t begin until this summer. "But with controversy around Facebook at a fever pitch, these kids sure picked the right time to start the project." You can join Diaspora* here.
Currently, SharePoint Online is a Microsoft subscription service for businesses and schools. The specific licenses you need depend on three factors: what capabilities are used, how SharePoint is deployed, and where the system is hosted.
SharePoint 2010 provides users with the capability to share pages, updates, and media and to aggregate their own social streams. It also allows users to collaborate on documents within the social structure. According to a ZDNet report, "it’s quite easy to imagine not only a free version that leverages Windows Live services, but provides a familiar and easily integrated interface for users deploying SharePoint in their organization."
Bebo, by AOL, while based in San Francisco is just beginning to grow its popularity in the States. It presently has more of a presence in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and throughout Europe. Bebo is one of the few social networking sites that defaults your profile to private, a welcome feature for those looking to escape Facebook’s anti-privacy hand-cuffs.
There’s a large selection of third party social media integration along with the typical capabilities you’d expect such as photo tags, videos and music. Its timeline provides members with an interactive display of live events in chronological order in an intuitive and easy to use display. Their "lifestream platform" allows users to turn chaos into order by delivering real-time data from followers' other platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and Delicious (with others to be added soon, according to their Web site).
Founded in 2002, Friendster is one of the Web's older social networking services. Adults 16 and up can connect with friends, family, school groups, activities and interests. Like Bebo,it's also based in California and is already quite popular in Asia but has has also gained a foothold in the United States. The network offers quite a few features to customize your profile, offering quite a few profile skins. With a little more than 25% of Facebook's user-base, with 115 million members worldwide, its slowly making a global presence.
Though Friendster’s design doesn’t really compare to Facebook, it does offer many of the typical features you’d expect from a global social network.
Google's social network Orkut which is extremely popular in locations such as Brazil and India has failed to gain traction in the United States. Orkut requires a Google Gmail account to register and makes it easy to find people who share your hobbies and interest. According to their Web site pitch , you can also "look for romantic connections, establish new business contacts or reconnect with old school mates." A nice 'welcome' feature for those who already have a Gmail account is when you visit their home page for the first time, the site welcomes you by name… as is evidenced here where it welcomed me.
Orkut’s privacy controls may be welcome to some, giving users finer control and the ability to block users, report spam and phishing incidents. Other networking features aren’t as in-depth as you’ll find with Facebook but it’s an alternative for someone that doesn't need all the bells and whistles or the slick design elements found on some of the other networks.
According to their own hype, BuddyPress is described as a "social networking in a box." Wordpress, the maker of online publishing tools has offered its BuddyPress plugin for about a year now, offering WordPress blog-smiths with an easy, open-source software package that transforms the publishing platform into a social network. If creating your own social network is the goal, with BuddyPress you don't have to wait for the Diaspora to launch? BuddyPress's next generation is now at 1.2 and features the basic WordPress elements like themes, plug-ins and widgets. Its completely free and open source and unlike hosted services, it allows users to stay in control of their site and create a totally customized-user experience.
The downside with this network is the platform was never intended to become a massive, global social network along the lines of Facebook, but rather to build out smaller, niche communities online a la Ning.
Acccording to a Channel Web report, "the baby of Netscape co-founder Marc Andreeson wins lots of praise from social networking purists who loathe 'walled garden' sites like Facebook." Dissimilar to FB, Ning plays well with the rest of the Web and is extremely versatile. It can serve as a single destination like Facebook or operate as a kind of behind-the-scene engine that aggregates from larger, loosely affiliated social networks. Originally developed for users that wanted to create their own special interest and hobbyist networks, Ning is now trying to reach out to the business communities as well.
For those that are familiar with Ning's DIY off-the-shelf product, you are probably now aware that their free 'niche' network is no longer available. Ning is going to be phasing out its free member services in July 2010, where sites will be required to pay a subscription fee going forward.
Perhaps the oldest social networks, LiveJournal was launched in 1999. Yet the blogging community is still going strong, with more than 17 million LJers around the world, 27.6 million journals and communities and 153 thousand posts per day. Created by Brad Fitzpatrick and later bought by Six Apart, LiveJournal was sold in 2007 to a Russian media company, SUP. In 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev became the most celebrated national figure to post his blog posts to the platform.
While more of a publishing platform than a Facebook-like Web site, Live Journal has incorporated some social networking tools in recent years, but is much more appreciated by people who want to create a lot of content, so it probably won’t appeal to some of Facebook's more casual social networkers.
A report from AppStorm also has solution to those that are contemplating the great Facebook Exodus. Their novel approach is "Real Life." Unheard of, probably in the Millennial circles, Jarel Remick suggests, "there’s really no substitute for getting out and visiting people — face to face. Social networks like Facebook have disrupted so many people’s real social lives that completely ditching online social networks is growing in popularity. There use to be a time when people did more than just text, email and message each other! Get out there and be human," Remick claims.
While I agree with Remick to some extent, I also feel that social networks contribute more than detract from our daily lives. The secret is to know how to balance our time between the 'real' and 'online' worlds. Where the balance sways to one extreme or the other, I think is when we get in trouble. While 'privacy' is of the greatest concern to many of us, the definition of 'privacy' is changing as well. Yes, Facebook is pushing the envelope on this issue, but I do think in the years to come, a lot of what we're debating today will become accepted social behavior.
However until that time, you have two choices. You can either exit the "Big F" and join one of the networks outlined in this post, or you can work from within and make sure Zuckerberg et al are "put in check" and that the 'wisdom of crowds' helps shape and mold their new privacy policies.
Now I would like to hear from the readers. Please take our two POLLS and let us know how you feel about Facebook, as well as letting us know which ones of the social networks outlined here best suits your needs? And if we missed one of your favorites, please make note in the comment section below.