Shortlog - a log of everyday things



Cross-posted from Facebook.

TL;DR I'm leaving Facebook on my birthday and deleting my account; please follow my blog and email ( or IM me ( for Jabber, drew.m.fisher on Skype) if you want to keep in touch.

I'm leaving Facebook. On my birthday, April 24th, I will delete my account. Why? Several reasons:

First, it was a time sink. I read lots, and saw lots of generally useless noise. I learned little from my time spent on Facebook. It's telling that I came to think of it as time spent, rather than time well used. It was no longer a good use of my time. It became filled with uninteresting fluff.

Furthermore, as an obsessive engineer, I seek the best tools for each task I wish to perform. Facebook, while decent at a variety of tasks, is not the best at any of them:

All of the above offer better workflow for their own particular task, more powerful features, and in the long run, more time saved. Few, if any, require any more learning than the comparable tools in Facebook's own.

I came to the conclusion that pretty much the only thing Facebook had going for it was that many people already had an account and spent copious time on the site. While this is perhaps relevant for things that require site registration, I found a very uncompelling argument to keep with it.

Finally, I take issue with Facebook's treatment of its users and their privacy. I recognize that most of you probably won't find this very important or compelling, but Facebook has a pretty long history of:

You all know I'm a techie. For a security- and privacy-minded individual like myself, this sort of behavior (and ongoing trend toward the worse) is deeply troubling. I've complained about these for quite some time. I realized that if I wanted to have any moral authority whatsoever, I needed to put my money where my mouth was, and stop using Facebook myself.

"But," I thought, "how could I leave Facebook? Everyone has an account! It's the primary method a lot of people use to keep in touch with their friends! Think of what you'd lose if you left!"

What would I lose if I left? As a scientist, I decided that the best way to answer my question would be to perform an experiment. Last summer, starting some time around July (I forget the exact date), I stopped logging in to Facebook altogether. Well, with single-digit exceptions over 9 months. Close enough.

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I found myself with more time to read fascinating things, work on personal projects, and enjoy my time in the real world. I finished an electronics project that I'd been thinking about doing for four years. I started writing a blog of the happenings of my life, including writing the software that powers it. Many friends still instant messaged me. I got pictures from friends by email. My mom continued to call me via Skype and ordinary telephone. I got the most epic box of brownies I have seen in my life in the mail. If anything, making the interaction more scarce had made it more precious, and the time I gained was phenomenal.

I consider my experiment a success. I determined that I can live and live well without Facebook. When Sarah Luna wrote that she would leave Facebook on her birthday, I decided that I, too, would delete my account on my birthday. I see it as simply making the gains from the experiment permanent. Moving to Phase 2.

In recognition of the fact that for some of you, this may be the only form of contact by which you know to reach me, I am writing this note to offer you alternatives. It is not my intent to sever contact with all you wonderful people. I simply ask that if you wish to reach me, you do it through any of a multitude of methods that do not involve Facebook:

Contact me, and I will reply happily and at length (although I can't necessarily guarantee promptness). If you write a blog, send me the URL, and I'll subscribe to your feed. Comment on mine and I will write back. I do still want to hear about your lives.

And perhaps consider: what would you really lose if you left, too? Could you make better use of your time?

With love,
Drew Fisher


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Andrew | 2011-04-13T03:45:54.886780

I subscribed to your Atom feed, you should subscribe to mine too! I'd do a free consult if you want to do something fancier with this blog too.

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Sarah Luna | 2011-04-13T07:59:01.930693

"My mom continued to call me via Skype and ordinary telephone."

I laughed out loud at this. Did you really think your mom would stop contacting you if you didn't have a Facebook? You make me smile.

I like this essay. It was smart to put practical reasons first even though I know the security stuff is most meaningful to you. You are getting better at writing for your audience. :)

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Mom | 2011-04-13T17:23:53.061324

Love your reasons and have pointed these out to Callie. I'm pretty sure security is the main reason. Are you serious you thought I might not call? It would be hard to get me to stop trying to keep in touch with you. You are my son and therefore precious to me.I'm afraid you're stuck with me for the long haul pal. Sending hugs!

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Elaine | 2011-04-14T11:56:35.972546

Did you mean by the comment about your mom and Skype that using the regular phone instead of the computer is the point of interest?

I found it weird that you put so much personal contact information in your Facebook explanation. Maybe I'm missing something and maybe you have it set up that your Facebook (and this site) can't be accessed by the whole internet only you mention how unknown folks have stumbled on your site. I may be paranoid - especially since you have mentioned what you are working on and some of your toys. I think that could be tempting to the wrong sorts.

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Drew Fisher | 2011-04-14T13:43:29.013931

@Andrew: subscribed. You have quite the long writeup of your site design; it was fun to read. Also, I've implemented your feature request; this should be the last email you will receive from replies to this post.

@Sarah and Mom: No, but I was enumerating a list of forms of contact that I still enjoyed outside of Facebook.

@Elaine: They could pull it from my resume, which I post on my website anyway. GTalk and Skype have good blocking capabilities, should spam/harassment be a problem. There are decent laws regarding telephone abuse, as well as technical means for blocking. I remember what I've written about, and know well the ease with which one can correlate data on the net. If there's something that I don't want to exist in public record, I will either not write about it here, or I'll simply post the hash of the post until I feel comfortable sharing it. Should I feel obligated to share something as a matter of public good but still fear the consequences, I shall do so through an entirely anonymous identity.

One significant concern I hold regarding Facebook is the "default opt-in" behavior of groups, photo tags, and so on. As a result, other people can manipulate your public image on Facebook. Here, I am in control of what gets posted to my official profile, and always will be. I (so far) moderate everything that appears on the site. I don't have to trust Facebook to do the right thing, which from the start they never did anyway.

Ultimately, website use is kinda like a free market, and this is me voting with my wallet. Just like people who want to support green energy can choose to pay more per kW/h for it, I'd rather spend some time maintaining this without Facebook than let a company I so distrust handle it.

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Dad | 2011-04-14T19:22:25.913786

And, if this new lawsuit has any merit, it really makes Zuckerberg look like a slimy schmuck:

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Elaine | 2011-04-15T12:58:19.435858

I totally agree about the unethical nature of FB and never saw the sense in wanting to share everything with everybody. That is why my location is a ghost town in Co. I figured you had the security issue worked out, I just wondered about it. (You are studying that after all.) ;-)

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Jono | 2011-04-17T14:47:09.871216

I have a very similar half-written blog post of my own - totally agree with what you're saying. The only real convenience I see in facebook that I can't get elsewhere is contact details. If I want to contact an old high school friend some day down the track I expect their facebook info page will still be up to date, but they may change e-mail address, phone number, actual address, etc.

Of course at this point that's a fairly speculative use case, and for many people there will be alternative means to get in touch (for example, google them, contact a mutual friend).

On a completely different note, do you store the antispam numbers people enter? I wonder if there are any patterns. I bet 1234 is common :-)

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Drew Fisher | 2011-04-17T16:30:51.462121

@Dad: What, you mean he didn't look like a slimy schmuck before? :P Not that Ceglia is an examplar of virtuous character (or convincing data) either. The whole mess is pretty ugly.

@Elaine: :)

@Jono: True, but (re-)finding contact info is easier on Facebook (mostly) because people maintain their Facebook profile. Its value stems from the network effect, which says little of the actual merit of the underlying service. (Aside: Betamax was technically superior to VHS, but VHS won as a result of network effects, namely, the support of the porn industry.)

On the other hand, there's *finding* the people that you knew, but are not presently linked to in the social graph. And for that, the People You May Know feature is pretty neat, is a novel offering, and would be way way harder to do in a distributed, federated setup. So I do suppose that's one of the things I've lost. On the other hand, since that's one of the things that's only easy when you've got fairly global knowledge, that requires parties to all trust a single third party (in this case, Facebook) with their social graph data. A distributed minimal-knowledge solution or implementation would make a fascinating paper.

As for the antispam numbers: I don't store them anywhere; I just verify their validity and move on. Since I already moderate everything anyway, I was just trying to reduce the amount of comments that I had to reject, without having to go to the trouble of changing my comment file format (and migrate all old comments to the new one).

Hmm, that tells me that I should really be versioning my comment file format, so I can add more stuff more easily later, like the don't-email-me-updates feature I added. Ah, learning from experience.

For the record, I always type 1234 as well. Easy to verify you've gotten the right number of digits, and your left hand's already up by the number row from hitting the Tab key to advance to the next form field. :)

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Elaine | 2011-04-17T18:23:14.733016

Pffft, where is the fun in 1234? I tried to remember some pertinent 4 digit numbers. I then tried thinking up words in number form but that took too long. You are young and clever so no excuse for you. Meanwhile, next time I have trouble falling asleep, I will work on being clever. ;-p

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judy | 2011-04-20T17:47:36.889715

Heya Drew,

What do you use to read your feeds? I suck at remembering to check my friends' various blogs individually. I blame ten years of livejournal.

I keep trying to use google reader, but I find myself refusing to check that anyway, cuz all my subscriptions keep getting lost under Steam updates (which I used to check all the time for work) (maybe I just haven't figured out the interface). Or... I feel a weird compulsion to hate readers... like, I want to read my friend's blog post in its original format, because somehow that feels more ... real. Even if it's just text. It's very strange =(

Maybe I have to set up live bookmarks on my browser and just get in the habit of looking at them. Or I need an aggregator that I don't hate! Any advice?

And thank you for this writeup. Can I link to it on my microblog?

I am not yet ready to leave Facebook or Twitter; I want to pursue a career in game community management and therefore need to use right tools for the job, which are "what everybody else is using" ... For personal use, though, I'm using alternatives simultaneously. You should get your own instance of statusnet on! Just cuz ... it's ... fun?

I'm only just beginning to learn about what it means to control my own information, and my friend maiki is quite a spokesman for The Federated Social Web Stuff... he's hosting for me and gently (sometimes) leading me to free and open source waters. haha.

~judy =)

I ran out of non-1111 four-digit antispams after 1492, 1337, and birthdays. haha!

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judy | 2011-04-20T18:01:30.336044

ps. Should your statusnet instance be called the "shorterlog" or the "microlog" ???

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Drew Fisher | 2011-04-20T21:30:36.697128

I'm a Google Reader user. I'd love it if I could use another desktop feed reader (say, something like akregator) and have it sync the read/unread item data with Google's. I read my feeds from too many places to have that not synchronized...

A statusnet instance...I'll add it to my list of things to set up when I find myself bored or with far too much free time. Maybe I'll call it the mu-log? We shall see.

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judy | 2012-01-23T05:24:30.775725

Hey from the future! I just read

I know some people who are hardcore involved with D* now. (I also submitted my first 2 pull requests to it! haha.) I still post to more than my d* page. What do you think of D*?