All Facebook Actually Is

This weekend, in a fit of pique, motivated by nothing other than the zeitgeist, I decided to check out FastMail for probably the fifth time over the years. I had been using G Suite, formerly Google Apps for My Domain, paying Google $10 a month for exactly the same thing everyone else gets for free, just so I could have email addresses at my own domains instead of gmail.com. I was still getting spied on, and I was doing much more than most Google users to financially support Google’s spying, but I couldn’t imagine anyone being better than Google at providing email, especially if they had an ethical business model. But then I looked, and I was wrong. FastMail is way better than G Suite, actually. So now I’m saving $5 a month forever, and I’ve deleted all my Google accounts. Like, permanently and completely.

Why was dumping Google so easy? Because the services for which I previously relied on Google — email, search, maps, document collaboration — are now available and good enough from providers whose incentives and interests align with mine. (DuckDuckGo rules!)

That leads me to ask, though, why my gut still wants me to hang onto my Facebook account, even though it’s deactivated, and to continue using Instagram. It’s not because of the features that obviously come to mind when you consider what Facebook’s apps do; those are all available and good enough — frequently much better, actually — from other places. It’s because I rely on Facebook, even in my account’s dormancy, to provide one fundamental service that nothing else has been able to provide.

No one has provided a better way to maintain a compendium of my relationships to which people can make their own changes. This is why the ill-fated Facebook integration with Apple’s contacts app was so promising. It would have been the best of both worlds; you still get to maintain your own records, but people could update their own information. But this is not Facebook’s real business, so that kind of integration with other platforms was never meant to be.

No one wants to admit this, but it’s actually Apple’s ecosystem that’s the more impoverished from the breakdown of that deal. In order to get this incredibly valuable service, one must actually use Facebook — and thereby suffer all the drawbacks that brings with it.

But look at it slightly differently. All we’re talking about here is a publish/subscribe model of sharing contact information. Facebook is not really a discrete, uniquely valuable network at all, it just acts like one by virtue of being the only way for your friends and relatives to update your contacts for you. Why isn’t that an open protocol like email is? It seems like it could even use email addresses for identity. You connect to someone via email, and then you’re “friends,” and when you update your contact card, it pushes the changes to your “friends” using something that is essentially email under the hood.

I really think Facebook would wither if we had this. It would allow people to enter into each other’s phone the ways they’d like to be contacted, rather than having one creepy, awful service try to replace all those ways. If we had that, it would barely matter which communication methods one prefers. It would break Facebook’s chokehold.

That is the only feature I’d need to be ready to delete my Facebook accounts and never look back. But I wouldn’t do it for some other service or tool that does anything else.