A Social Reboot

When I got off Twitter (I do log in there every now and then) and disabled my Facebook account, it was not meant to be a permanent thing. I had a massive backlog to run through when December 2010 came around and cutting off these two were one of the many steps I had taken to ensure that I don't lose focus. It is now close to two months since I have posted anything on Twitter and almost a month since I disabled my Facebook account. Surprisingly, I don't miss either all that much.

Before I go any further, I should clarify that some of my observations regarding usage of these platforms are very specific to me. It may or may not apply to you (chances being more of the latter). I have also been off instant messengers (with the exception of Skype for work) since 2008, making me very old school. Email and phone have been the best ways to reach me for a while now.

Usage

Twitter: My typical use of Twitter has been a 60:40 split between sourcing information/links and conversations. I don't follow a lot of people and have always tried to keep the number under 100 since anytime it has gone above 90 the noise just completely overwhelms the signal for me. I also don't have the bandwidth to handle any volume greater than that. But I do reply to pretty much every tweet that addresses me (well, save some of the endlessly repetitive #ff tweets).

Facebook: I am most certainly the 20 in the 80:20 creation:consumption ratio on Facebook. I rarely post anything there, but browse a lot, 'like' the odd artifact or two and keep up on what friends are telling others what they are up to these days. Facebook used to be the third persistent tab on my browser (the first two being Gmail and Google Reader), though I could rarely understand why. Guess it was more of a habit – command+3, command-r.

Value

Twitter: To say I have been completely off Twitter would not be true. Other than regular lurking sessions, there is an experimental site that I run (now very broken), which picks up the links from my Twitter timeline, crawls the links, excludes some that I don't like (Techcrunch, Foursquare) and throws a RSS feed at me that I follow in Google Reader. The value I have gotten from Twitter as an interest-driven content source has been excellent. It augments my Google Reader subscriptions well. Only if I could de-duplicate, cluster and classify all these sources into a single feed..

How much do I miss Twitter? On a scale of 1-5, I think a 3 is an ideal representation of this. It could have been higher, but over time I started having fewer conversations that were more than just chatter and I was getting more into broadcast-only mode. Yes, I could prune and change my follow list to address it, but I don't have the inclination to do that. And Twitter does not help matters much by having a horribly broken discovery mechanism. The 'similar people' feature is a joke.

Facebook: If one word could sum up my usage of Facebook it would be 'timesink'. Facebook is almost entirely personal contacts for me, so there is little professional value for me from it. The third tab has been my favourite source of distractions and as a product Facebook excels at that. My real value from Facebook has been birthdays. I am awful at remembering these things and in the previous layout of Facebook it was easy to see them. The day they changed it, one of my major reasons to use Facebook also disappeared.

How much do I miss Facebook? On a scale of 1-5, it is probably zero. The first few days I had to fight the habit of opening the third tab and key in 'f' and wait for auto-complete to do the rest of the magic. After a week or so, I did not even remember the reasons as to why I was there in the first place. I do like having more time on my hands to read things I like (books, for instance) and not hang out on the computer blindly clicking away at links.

This, by no means, is not representative of most people I know. It is actually representative of the problems I have. I have a personality that is very prone to addictions like those. A normal addiction grants you something valuable – a rush, a fix etc – but for me most addictions just grant a pattern or a habit to break the monotony. It is what I call the anticipation rush – the rush that when the data loads on your system, you feel you'll find something exciting there. This dies as soon as the page load is over.

What Next?

I do spend a fair bit of time on Quora and Hacker News. I jump in on the odd thread where I feel I have something useful to contribute. They are not beyond the flaws mentioned about Facebook and Twitter earlier in the post, but they work much slower and there is an inbuilt incentive to not contribute in both places unless you have something of use/value to say. I have to admit, I quite like that.

At this stage, I don't see myself activating my Facebook account again. I simply don't see what do I stand to gain from it. Twitter – I may get back on it, but I want to try something else before I do that. Over time, I have been increasingly wary of not owning the content and conversations that I contribute. I don't want to own all of it, but I don't like this current situation where I don't own most of it. Also, I want to see if I can patch together some of these on this blog and my personal domain. Yes, I won't ever probably go viral (not like I ever have), but I kind of like that better.

A smaller audience, better quality conversations and ownership of the context/content – sounds like a workable plan to me.