Contest Update and Facebook Followup

Quick notes:

Haiku Contest: I was going to announce it today but I think I’ll end up announcing it tomorrow or Friday. The reason for this: I have selected a winner (yay!) but I also want to name three or four finalists, so I’m combing through the haikus again for those. Hey, there are several hundred. I want to be fair. So: Tomorrow. Maybe Friday. But there is definitely a winner.

Facebook Entry: A couple of points here on today’s Facebook post.

* In comments here and elsewhere there was interpretation of me saying that Facebook wasn’t for someone like me, but it was for normal people as a) a way to signal that I am awesome and smart and also awesome, and b) normal people are stupid and suck, and that’s why they use Facebook. Yeah, no. It’s not for me because the functionality doesn’t map well for what I want to do or have for my online experience, and “normal” in this case doesn’t mean “stupid people who suck,” it means “people who don’t want to make the time/energy commitment to run their own site.”

In this estimation, one of the normal people I’m speaking about is my wife, who has zero interest in maintaining her own site — even though I bought the domain in case she ever did — but who uses Facebook because her family and friends are on it, and who is reasonably happy with it even if I am not. If you think I’m going to call my wife stupid (or worse, think that she is stupid), well, the most charitable thing I can say about that is you probably don’t know me all that very well.

* Likewise, for the people who wish to suggest I’m a snob about hoi polloi getting their sticky little fingers all over my precious, precious Web, a gentle reminder that in the mid-90s I used to work full time at AOL, the original home of the September That Never Ends, and that for three and a half years in the mid-aughts, I was the “mayor” of AOL Journals, the company’s (eventually unsuccessful) attempt to create its own LiveJournal experience. Basically, my professional experience argues against such a position. My problems with Facebook are not based on its popularity but on its design and its ethos regarding member data privacy.

* To the person who sent the e-mail that said “Yeah! Do Twitter next!”: I’m going to have to disappoint you because in fact I like Twitter quite a bit and find it complementary to what I already do online rather than a fumbling attempt to replace it with something less good. I’ve already discoursed on Twitter at length so there’s no point in repeating myself; click through that link if you want to know of what I think about it. But I will say that between Twitter and Facebook, I know which one I enjoy more.


January is the New February

February traditionally being the Month in Which My Daughter Doesn’t Get An Education, because of the high number of snow days at school. However, this year January seems to be making a run for the title, as she had two and a half snow days last week (the “half” being the days school started late/got out early because of weather conditions), and today school was canceled, not because of snow, but because it rained last night and then the temperature dropped below freezing, meaning that every road in my immediate vicinity is composed of black ice. Which is bad. So she’s currently down in the living room, watching Invader Zim. Which is educational in its way, I suppose.

What worries me is the possibility that February, jealous of January’s encroachment of its usual role, will strive to take back the crown, slamming us in bad weather, that Athena will actually not receive any schooling for four weeks straight and as a consequence will have to stay in school through July to make up for it. She will not be pleased. Although I suppose it would take care of what to do with her over the summer.

Anyway, this is why I’m online at the moment instead of working toward the daily writing quota. How are you?


Musicals From Science Fiction Films: My Picks

Ever lie awake at night wondering which science fiction movies could make excellent Broadway musicals? No? Well, why not? I do. And because I do, my column this week is on just that subject. Come find out which five films I think are just itchin’ to get the full-blown musical treatment. You may agree or disagree, but I promise that afterward you’ll never look at those films again without thinking about them as musicals. You’re welcome.


And Now, For No Particular Reason, a Rant About Facebook

A friend of mine noted recently that I seemed a little antagonistic about Facebook recently — mostly on my Facebook account, which is some irony for you — and wanted to know what I had against it. The answer is simple enough: Facebook is what happens to the Web when you hit it with the stupid stick. It’s a dumbed-down version of the functionality the Web already had, just not all in one place at one time.

Facebook has made substandard versions of everything on the Web, bundled it together and somehow found itself being lauded for it, as if AOL, Friendster and MySpace had never managed the same slightly embarrassing trick. Facebook had the advantage of not being saddled with AOL’s last-gen baggage, Friendster’s too-early-for-its-moment-ness, or MySpace’s aggressive ugliness, and it had the largely accidental advantage of being upmarket first — it was originally limited to college students and gaining some cachet therein — before it let in the rabble. But the idea that it’s doing something better, new or innovative is largely PR and faffery. Zuckerberg is in fact not a genius; he’s an ambitious nerd who was in the right place at the right time, and was apparently willing to be a ruthless dick when he had to be. Now he has billions because of it. Good for him. It doesn’t make me like his monstrosity any better.

Which is of course fine. The fact is Facebook isn’t made for someone like me, who once handrolled his own html code and then uploaded it using UNIX commands because he was excited to have his own Web site, and back in 1993 that’s how you did it. I’ve been maintaining and actively updating my own site in one form or another for the better part of two decades now, and (quite obviously) like to write at length on whatever thought is passing through my brain at the moment. Committed loggorheic nerds like me don’t need something like Facebook. It’s made for normal people, the ones who just want to stay in contact with friends and post pictures for them to see and maybe play a game or two, and have a single convenient place to do all that sort of stuff online. Facebook is the Web hit with a stupid stick, but that doesn’t mean people are stupid for using it. They see Facebook as letting them do the things they want to do, and not making them jump through a bunch of hoops to do it. Again: Fine.

But again, also: Not really for me. I look at Facebook and what I mostly see are a bunch of seemingly arbitrary and annoying functionality choices. A mail system that doesn’t have a Bcc function doesn’t belong in the 21st Century. Facebook shouldn’t be telling me how many “friends” I should have, especially when there’s clearly no technological impetus for it. Its grasping attempts to get its hooks into every single thing I do feels like being groped by an overly obnoxious salesman. Its general ethos that I need to get over the concept of privacy makes me want to shove a camera lens up Zuckerberg’s left nostril 24 hours a day and ask him if he’d like for his company to rethink that position. Basically there’s very little Facebook does, either as a technological platform or as a company, that doesn’t remind me that “banal mediocrity” is apparently the highest accolade one can aspire to at that particular organization.

So, you ask, why do I use Facebook? The answer is obvious: Because other folks do, and they’re happy with it and I don’t mind making it easy for them to get in touch with me. But my Facebook immersion is relatively shallow; I save the majority of my deep thoughts for this Web site and the majority of my short thoughts for Twitter, so Facebook tends to get whatever’s left. I don’t use much there that would allow some obnoxious third-party program to either clutter up my wall or inform all my friends that I’ve bought a pig in a video game; they don’t give a crap and I wouldn’t want to inflict that information on them. I work on the assumption that Facebook is working by default to make me look like an asshole to everyone who’s connected to me, because I’ve seen it do it to others. As a result I think I’ve managed to avoid being such to others there. Or at the very least, if I’m an ass on Facebook, it’s my own doing and not because of Facebook. Which is all I can ask for.

I really do wish Facebook were smarter and less obnoxious to use. I wish I could sign on to the damn thing and not have the first thing I feel be exasperation at the aggressive dimness of its UI and its functionality. I wish I could like Facebook. But I don’t, and I’m having a hard time seeing how I ever will. I understand there’s a value for Facebook making itself the stupid version of the Web. I really really really wish there wasn’t.

So what’s left to me is to take comfort in the fact that eventually Facebook is likely to go the way of all companies that are stupid versions of the Web. This is not to say that Facebook will ever go away completely — its obtuse process for deleting one’s account at the very least assures it will always be able to brag of its membership rolls. But you know what, I still have accounts for AOL, Friendster and MySpace. Ask me how often I use them.

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