The Facebook Decision

Unhappily sitting on the fence; here’s why.

A while back, I wrote “Why I Suspended my Facebook Account.” I just reread it and it still rings true. But Facebook has again gotten in my face and I need to make a decision.

Facebook has proliferated to the point where it’s impossible for anyone in business — especially the business of writing computer-related content — to ignore. It’s everywhere. “Friend me on Facebook!” has become the robotic chant of businesses and individuals all over the country. I have tried to play the part of South Park’s Stan but Facebook continues to intrude on my life.

Recently, I discovered that Facebook had created a community page for me based on my Wikipedia entry. The opening paragraph states:

Our goal is to make this Community Page the best collection of shared knowledge on this topic. If you have a passion for Maria Langer, sign up and we’ll let you know when we’re ready for your help. You can also get us started by suggesting the Official Facebook Page.

So I have become a Facebook “topic.” I don’t know if I should be flattered or horrified.

(And, by the way, if you have “a passion” for me, I’d love to know. My husband might be interested, too.)

My Current Career Situation

Meanwhile, my dual careers as the creator of how to books, articles, and video training material about computers (which I’ve been doing for 20 years) and helicopter charter operator (which I’ve been doing for 5 years) are suffering along with the economy.

Print publishing — especially of computer how-to material — is dying a slow and painful death. The widespread availability of the same content — usually for free — on the Internet is destroying book sales. Just about anyone can use Google to find the answer to a computer or software question online. (That doesn’t mean the answer will be right, but that doesn’t seem to matter to anyone.) There are numerous blogs, including one of mine, that provide how-to information with the same step-by-step instructions I built my writing career on for free.

This is what publishers are competing with. They know it and they try to fight back by stressing the simple fact that their content is being created by experts. But no one seems to care. Why spend $20 on a book that might answer a question when you can spend 20 minutes with Google and the World Wide Web and get an answer for free?

As a result, most of my books are not being revised. The most recent casualty to this trend was my Excel for Windows Visual QuickStart Guide which I have been revising since I wrote the first edition for Excel 95. Look all you want for an Excel 2010 edition — you won’t find one.

The world of helicopter charters is even more shaky with the economy the way it is. My last season in Arizona was dismal, with very few good charters — certainly not enough to pay the bills. The agricultural work I do during the summer months is a lifesaver for the business. Without it, I’d likely have to sell the helicopter and close up shop.

And I’m not the only one in this situation. Helicopter operators and flight schools have gone out of business all over the country. Most people simply don’t have money to spend on things they don’t really need. Who needs to fly in a helicopter? Very few people.

Enter, Facebook

Facbook LogoAnd then there’s Facebook, sitting out there, presenting itself as a free way to make contact with potential readers, video learners, and helicopter passengers. A marketing tool, waiting to be used. Like a worm sitting on the grass, waiting for the a bird to snatch it. But is there a string attached that will drag me down into a hole?

I could reactivate my Facebook account. It’s easy. All I have to do is log in. Everything is there, just where I left it.

Of course, I did strip out all my personal information — or whatever information I could — to prevent it from getting into the hands of people I didn’t want to have it. I’d have to build that back up, selectively, to make a real profile page.

Then I’d have to build pages for each of my careers, keeping them up to date. I’d have to visit them regularly to keep in touch with my new “friends” and respond to their comments on my “wall.” I’d have to accept friend requests from strangers and then struggle to figure out which ones were real people and which were spammers trying to sell me their crap. I’d have to find new people to friend. I’d have to post on my wall and their walls. I’d probably have to fiddle around with the never-ending collection of applications, trying to figure out what they do, how they work, and why I should use them. I’d have to build a presence for myself on Facebook, in a community I have no desire to be part of.

I’d be going through the motions just to satisfy fans and mollify editors. I’d be playing the game because it was expected of me. I’d be spending hours of my life every week on a marketing tool that might get me a handful of new readers and video learners but would more likely expand the audience for the free content I already put on the Web.

Time is one of the most valuable things I have. My freelance lifestyle gives me more time than most people have. But I don’t want to waste it. I’d much rather spend it on things that are important to me, learning or doing something interesting, something worth remembering, worth writing about, worth sharing.

Is Facebook any of that?

There’s more to my life than writing on virtual walls and tending to imaginary farm fields.

I don’t want to sell out.

13 thoughts on “The Facebook Decision

  1. I have had a similar experience this morning. I accidentally posted a blog post to facebook via my tumblr blog and when went to delete the post that appeared under “My Notes” I got the following error message: “Only owner of the note or administrator of a Page can edit/delete this note.” How am I not the owner and adminstrator of my own facebook page?!

  2. I prefer to keep all my personal information where I have control of it — on my own blog. I really don’t WANT to maintain a presence on a site that limits the way I can manipulate and publish my data. I don’t see the attraction of Facebook. It’s a time suck.

  3. Maria, this is a bit of a non-comment, but I wouldn’t want your post to just provoke silence as it raises quite an issue.

    Your post has made me think and while I have some off-the-cuff responses I realise I need to ponder a bit more.

    I hope I can comment with more depth later. But thanks for posting this.

  4. Facebook seems to terrify some people. Somebody once told me that he would never “descend” to using Facebook. Not sure what the problem is. It’s not the devil, only a social networking site. I personally enjoy Facebook and in creating content for my personal profile, I have improved my photography skills, have developed an interest in videography and have realized that people enjoy hearing about where I have been, which has encouraged me to start a personal travel website. Have also connected with friends I haven’t seen for years, which has been gratifying. If I really “went for it”, I could definitely monetize some of my Facebook interactions, but I don’t feel like going there right now. I also belong to multiple groups and information sites which provide interesting, useful content on a daily basis. What you would do on Facebook is exactly what you are doing on your websites, but in an abbreviated, more informal format. If you don’t feel comfortable doing Facebook, then don’t do it. It only works if you believe in it and if you enjoy it. And you don’t need to spend hours on it nor do you have to play Farmville or any of the other games. It’s like anything else in life (including blogging), Facebook can be as elevated or as trivial as you make it. By the way, I have taken several of your courses on, they were fantastic and really helpful.

  5. You are right.
    Facebook is everywhere but i have left it and i can say that i am happy with my decision.
    i just wasted too much time on it even if i tried to use it in a smart way.
    too much distractions

  6. @Daphne Shapiro
    I wouldn’t say I’m “terrified.” I’m just concerned about spending a lot of time in yet another social networking environment when I could better spend that time doing other things. I’m also having trouble understanding why it’s apparently so important today to have a Facebook presence in addition to a personal or business Web site. If I didn’t have careers to worry about, I wouldn’t give it much more thought. But now I’m wondering whether using Facebook should be part of a career strategy. I really hope not.

    It’s interesting to get a positive view on Facebook. Most of my readers are more likely to share my views — in one way or another — on this. It’s good to get the other viewpoint. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  7. @alex
    It certainly can be yet another distraction keeping me from doing the work that actually earns money. I’m having enough trouble minimizing distractions from e-mail, the Web (in general), and Twitter. Adding another distraction would probably not be a good idea. But the way I see it, I have to either DO IT or NOT DO IT. I can’t just start using Facebook in a minimal way.

  8. @Miraz Jordan
    I think that was the purpose of the post — to get readers thinking about. And, as usual, it was a way to get my own thoughts organized and out so I could rethink about them. I’d be interested to hear what you have to say. Is Facebook as big in New Zealand as it is up here? It’s everywhere!

  9. Maria, the Internet is expanding in all directions in much the same way as Space, and as time passes there are simply more and more places where we can participate. Also over time, as you know, there are fads and fashions. It is impossible to keep up.

    I have an account on Facebook, and on LinkedIn, and Twitter. I’ve had accounts in other places too.

    What I’ve found, just for me, is that I’m a *Twitter* person. I hang out there and find a lot of satisfaction from my connections.

    But even on Twitter I have 3 accounts – one is ‘me’, while another is for my MacTips and yet another for my dog websites.

    I can’t sustain that, in fact, and am active only on @miraz. I simply send out weekly Tips updates and rare relevant tweets on MacTips, and am pretty well ignoring the dog-related account.

    I just don’t feel ‘at home’ on Facebook. I don’t really get it and don’t care to participate in all the stuff you’ve mentioned above. It *is* right for some people though. For example, my partner enjoys interacting there. Again, I add 1 update per week to my MacTips Facebook page, when I publish a new Tip.

    It’s much the same for me with LinkedIn.

    I suspect that for a business person there are several factors to consider, just as there are when we ‘target’ certain groups of customers, and shape our business.

    1] Does it feel ‘right’? Is it authentic and genuine for us? Twitter works for me. If I tried to really, deeply participate in Facebook I suspect I would come across as a bit false because I’m just not interested in it.

    In real life I just don’t fit into ‘corporate’ culture. If I tried to go work for some Fortune 50 company I think we’d soon part ways. My ‘natural’ market is individuals, tiny businesses, community organisations.

    2] Who and where are our customers? Are the customers you care about only hanging out on Facebook? Is that the only way you can reach them? How much do you need to participate to give those customers what they need?

    As you point out, there’s a cost to you of using Facebook. Is there any evidence that suggests that’s the best way to spend your marketing funds (time)? The time you spend there is time you’re not reaching out to potential customers in other ways. Facebook’s international. Will ‘friending’ 1500 people in the UK, Australia, India really sell more helicopter rides or even more books? Will it sell more than your participation in Twitter achieves?

    3] Who ‘controls’ your information? You ‘own’ your own websites. You have the text, the images etc totally under your control. If the hosting company disappeared overnight I presume you have good backups and could readily reinstate the sites on another host. You have total control over format and content.

    When we put text and images into Facebook we have no control over them It’s not a hosting company; it’s a service. If they shut down tomorrow what do we have? Do we have lists of ‘friends’, or our messages, or our images? No. They determine what we can add and how we can add it.

    When people Google on your search terms they’ll find your websites and your tweets.

    If your editors want a book to ‘be’ on Facebook then let the publisher’s marketing department deal with that. Let them have a presence there and maintain it.

    I think I’ve just spent a long time saying: if you don’t want to be on Facebook then don’t participate. If it doesn’t meet your strategic goals and provide personal satisfaction and enjoyment then don’t join in.

    Spend your valuable time and effort in the places where it gives you real benefit, and leave behind the ‘popular’ places that don’t.

  10. This is an interesting column. I too feel the pressure of constant distractions every time I get on my computer.

    I don’t use Linkedln because it bothers me that anyone can look up all of my information just because they are also signed up. (Just as FB has been used for cyberstalking, so can Linkedln, but Linkedln lends itself more easily to in-person stalking because of all the information the professional accounts contain). I created an account a few years ago, never went back in, and now can’t remember my log-in information to get in and remove my account. It’s not up to date anyway so I don’t sweat it.

    In some ways, FB used to help with saving time when it came to social interactions because most of the people I want to sustain connections to as though we are close together in real time could be reached in one place at the same time. It is also easier and less time consuming than going from blog to blog to read up on what friends are up to and interested in.

    However, FB keeps changing privacy policies so that even while offering more controls (only due to outrage on the part of users, lawsuits, and investigations by non-American governments), to access all of the privacy choices it takes increasing amounts of time to ferret them all out!

    Also, because FB kept making changes without warning, privacy settings were undone multiple times without our knowledge, and when I would discover it, I would have to go back in and set them all over again. Now I don’t trust FB so I feel the need to take the time to recheck my privacy settings on a regular basis, which requires the time to go in deep with a lot of clicks to cover all the settings.

    Then there’s the sense of over-saturation. Just the other day, my husband and I were discussing how we are feeling sick of FB now because its logo is Everywhere we go, even local small businesses like bars and diners-businesses with no retail departments so is a FB presence really necessary? Just seeing the logo absolutely everywhere on almost everything is a turn-off. After-awhile, it feels like a virus one can’t escape, like some horror sci-fi movie.

    I think the crux of my problem when it comes to FB being a distraction and time waster is the email notification system. I recently decided to turn off the email notifications because no matter what business or project I logged on to take care of, I ended up going into FB to respond to posts and internal email messages from friends, to read updates from groups, and to read new comments from forums I’d been in to find answers to something.

    My inability to ignore those email notifications creates ADD behaviors, where I start too many things and finish almost none of them. Sometimes, by the time I get off the computer I can’t even remember what I originally logged on to take care of, or if I do remember, I never got to it. The convenience of instant notifications from FB, and from my email programs in general, actually ends up bogging me down. Not that long ago, emails and people Could wait until I checked my emails for anything to respond to, just like we all managed to survive without cell phones providing others the ability to reach us anywhere at any hour. The human brain needs some space and cushioning from the steady barrage.

    That ADD sort of behavior is the exact Opposite of the person I’ve been all of my life until the last 3 years or so, when my computer’s ability to do almost anything I need anywhere, accompanied by innumerable people, businesses, and interests breaking in to my work and focus really took hold.

    As for a page created for you by FB, I wondered why I landed on pages like that. I’ve been annoyed by them when I clicked to one only to find nothing there. I didn’t realize it was FB creating them.

    Such presumption on the part of FB is why I’ve started resenting it. Merely because it can, it does, without the permission of users and the subjects of pages. (How is FB financially rewarding you for using you to create a page about you? How are any of these data gathering companies compensating any of us for Our information that they sell in some form or another?)

    I really dislike the lack of control over our own identities, data, and creations. And I resent using the aspects of FB that I enjoy but then having to constantly guard myself against its uninvited intrusions into my privacy.

    I just clicked notify me of follow-up comments. lol

What do you think?