Spotlight On – OPEN-SOURCE

May 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

(Originally posted December 27 2010; original title “The Least Open-Source Platform on the Web”; where things start to get interesting in terms of my hatred)

True story.

First of all, a little disclaimer: I was recently banned from Facebook due to Terms of Service violations.

No hard feelings.

Technically, I had been in violation — in order to research Facebook trolls, I needed to see what Facebook trolls were up to. And the only way to do that was to create a number of alt/research profiles. In the last six months I’ve burned through a dozen or so alts, only to create new accounts as soon as I was banned. “b&,” as we say in the business. But then, suddenly, my actual real-life Facebook profile was disabled, along with the three alts I’d been using for research — presumably because the admins had somehow connected my real life account with my research/troll accounts. My research accounts were fake, so I get why they were banned, but my real-life account was not; this was the first time I experienced any RL backlash from my work.

NOW how am I supposed to play Farmville???

As soon as I realized what had happened, I decided that, you know what, I’m actually sort of done with Facebook. Not the research stuff, I created a new fake profile within an hour of discovering the bannings (sorry Zuck, mama’s got a dissertation to write). My real-life account, on the other hand….all I can say is meh. Like many people I know (I’m looking at YOU, anonymous reader who knows who he is), I’d been complaining about Facebook for months — but hadn’t done anything about it because, I don’t know, doing something would have required effort. And then, like a little gift from heaven, Facebook made the decision for me.

In other words, I’m entirely biased. Then again who isn’t, so whatever.

Which brings me to the topic of this post — the concept of open source. As you may have gleaned from the above title, I regard Facebook as the hulking blue antipode to open source anything, from software to the creation of online (and/or real life) fantasy worlds. Open-source platforms encourage users to tweak data as they see fit, deliberately eschew hierarchy, and rely on collaborative, collective intelligence to build a bigger, cooler [whatever]. Things might not run so smoothly in practice, but in theory, open-source is predicated on an “us,” not on some singular proprietor or selective group of gatekeepers.

Facebook is very much not that. Not because Mark Zuckerberg is a bad guy, not because the company itself is evil, but -ironically- because it is such a well-designed, sturdy-ass platform. Data goes where the programmers want it to go. Users utilize products and services precisely as they were intended (with trolls being the major exception – xo). Most interestingly (and problematically, in my mind), the basic interpersonal orientation of users is preset — solipsism is built into the source code. The user is the subject of every sentence he or she utters, and is quite literally positioned as the center of his particular –and therefore the– universe. People constantly remark on the narcissism of their Facebook “friends” –from oversharing (“Jilly Josephson really hopes this brown spot on her nipple isn’t cancerous”) to constant observations about the weather (“Greg Gargleboil is just looked outside and noticed its raining lol!”) to the assumption that any of us are interested in the day-to-day goings-on of people we vaguely remember disliking in high school (“Allison H. Jenkem really needs another cup of coffee!”), not to mention the steady stream of unsolicited political “insights”–without acknowledging that, by posting anything on Facebook ever, we are all similarly guilty. Not because we’re real-life narcissists, but because Facebook requires us to be narcissists online. At least, whenever we’re on Facebook. We have no choice; our behavioral (read: data) pathways are predetermined.

There are other things to complain about, here (privacy stuff; being reduced to a commodified set of mineable data) — and other things to couch and parse (the overwhelming benefits of social networking; Facebook’s indisputable and often quite positive cultural influence) but space is limited, and I’m more interested in starting a fight (excuse me, discussion) than providing an airtight answer. Just earning my keep as one of Facebook’s Most Wanted.

AOL Keyword: MySpace

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