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internet

Best buy: on Facebook and Instagram

Back in 2012, many observers scoffed at the billion-dollar price that Facebook paid for Instagram. Who’s laughing now? That acquisition seems more and more prescient as time goes by—as M.G. Siegler remarked recently, “The smartest thing Facebook ever did was buy Instagram.” The social networking giant managed to secure its own life raft, long before most of us noticed that the seas were getting choppy.

Now, Facebook itself is sinking. My friends, at least, have long since stopped posting there. The conversations that do happen on Facebook tend to be politically-charged and impolite. As Seigler notes, many teens never even join the service. At the same time, the company faces increasing pressure from government watchdogs—both for its role as a Russian lever in the 2016 election and for alleged censorship of particular political viewpoints.

Happily (for Zuckerberg & Co.), Instagram has avoided these problems. The service’s exclusive emphasis on photo-sharing—formerly Facebook’s best feature—has made it irresistibly sticky—even to the Snapchat generation. Plus, because Instagram only does photos (i.e., no text posts and no links), its conversation threads are less political, less controversial, and generally less fraught than on Facebook. Meanwhile, the branding firewall between the two companies has prevented Facebook’s regulatory controversies from engulfing Instagram. Six years post-acquisition, many users still don’t know it happened.)

Facebook’s strategy has worked perfectly on me, at least. I visit Facebook only rarely—and often only for a few seconds each time. There just isn’t much there for me.1 But Instagram remains a daily habit; who doesn’t love seeing snapshots of friends and family?  ■


  1. To be fair, I may not be the best anecdotal example, since I’ve worked hard to detach myself from Facebook these past few years. I’ve deactivated my account multiple times, I refuse to install the app on my phone, and I run content blockers to prevent the news feed from showing up on the web.
Categories
internet tech

“The more people use Facebook, the more unhappy they are”

‘You are the product’ by John Lanchester

“The researchers found quite simply that the more people use Facebook, the more unhappy they are. A 1 per cent increase in ‘likes’ and clicks and status updates was correlated with a 5 to 8 per cent decrease in mental health. In addition, they found that the positive effect of real-world interactions, which enhance well-being, was accurately paralleled by the ‘negative associations of Facebook use’. In effect people were swapping real relationships which made them feel good for time on Facebook which made them feel bad.”

Lanchester forcefully makes the case that Facebook is a net evil—bad for your mental health and bad for society as a whole.


Cynical about Facebook’s motivations, its suck on my time, and its effects on my well-being, I’ve tried to untangle myself from the service lately. I first deleted the app a few months ago—a divorce that didn’t take, since I reinstalled within days. My second attempt proved more successful, however, and I haven’t used the app since late spring. I do occasionally get sucked into checking Facebook via the web, but that happens less and less frequently. I’m slowly psyching myself up for a permanent account deletion.

What keeps me from pulling the trigger? Family photos, of course. It’s hard to resist the spurts of dopamine I get when friends comment on pics of my adorable two-year-old. That same mild addiction also makes it tough to quit Instagram (which is owned, of course, by Facebook itself.)

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internet Uncategorized

Online contests: stop selling your followers.

Savvy companies know the value of a meme. Viral advertising pays for itself, so marketers employ a variety of techniques to get their brands trending. The perfect celebrity endorsement. The quirky video. The well-managed controversy. Another sure-fire way to kick-start some buzz? Contests. Offer a sparkly prize, and require your fans to share your message in order to enter.

It’s not hard to find examples of this strategy in the wild:

https://twitter.com/ThatKiddKuda/status/588123329053200386

Of course, businesses sponsored contests long before the advent of social media. The difference? Social networks give marketers a direct line to customers’ eager eyeballs—through their Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds.

Stated plainly: when you pass along these companies’ “advert-contests,” you’re selling your friends. You’re bartering your followers’ attention for a raffle ticket. You’re exchanging your friends’ time for the chance to win a vacation (or a PlayStation, or a car). You’re saying to them, “I value even the possibility of free stuff more than I value you.”

Would you sell your friends’ phone numbers to a telemarketer? Or give their home addresses to a door-to-door salesperson for cash? Would you slip ad brochures under your friends’ windshield wipers, if it meant you might win the lottery? Chances are, these exchanges would make you queasy. Yet we enter online contests without a second thought. We don’t ask, “Is this appropriate? Do I want to leverage my friendships into a chance to win a toaster?”

Your social graph is an asset, and you’re free to spend it as you see fit. You can sell your friends to marketers. But don’t be surprised if that friend count takes a hit. For many (including me!), it’s an automatic unfollow.

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technology Uncategorized

Social media = dessert.

Candy makes a lousy meal. Sure, for a while, it’s delicious. But after a certain sugar threshold, sweets stop tasting sweet. Mucous builds up on your tongue. Your teeth ache. And it’s addictive; long after you’re gorged, you’re still digging congealed corn syrup nuggets from the bag.

Social media is like that. You know you’re craving ‘real food:’ thoughtful conversation, shared adventures, drinks with friends. But, instead, you socialize online. It’s hauntingly empty. Your heart hurts. And it’s addictive; long after you’re bored, you’re still refreshing your browser, hoping for an update.

Dessert tastes best after a hearty, healthy meal. Social media works best as an extension of real experiences, real relationships. Make it the main course, and you’re likely to get sick.