Over the last few days, Ruby Karp has been getting a lot of traction with her post “I’m 13 and none of my friends use Facebook.” Here are four reasons why the post has been catching fire:
It’s hard to overstate Facebook’s success. For many, Facebook has become synonymous with “social media” or even “the Internet.” It was the engine of the social-media revolution, demonstrating the power of personal connections to draw attention and drive traffic online—during a time when the Internet went from being something accessed by sitting down and “logging in” to something that you almost breathe.
Though it fueled its rise with gossipy exclusivity, Facebook today is an indispensable tool. If you’re living even a quasi-adult, quasi-mainstream life in America today, you’re likely checking Facebook at least once a day—probably more. (Even teens, much as they might find Facebook distasteful, are still far more likely to use the site than any other social network.) Prospective employers might be trying to contact you via Facebook, and your current employer might require you to use Facebook for discussion groups or page administration. You’ll miss a lot of birthday parties if you never check your event invites.
Increasingly, though, the social-sharing aspects of Facebook are being dominated by the Crazies. You might know them as “my high school friends” or “my distant cousins” or “people I used to work with”: people you’re distantly acquainted with and through whose friendship you’ve become acquainted with the pulsing, panting, lunatic fringe that’s slowly but surely filling Facebook with batshit crazy.
Facebook’s Web interface does a fairly good job filtering your feed to prioritize the friends with whom you most often interact, but check the mobile app or a third-party app like Flipboard, and you’re opening a window into the abyss. There’s your third cousin who became a priest, posting non sequitur verse about his obsession with Jesus. There’s your pro-gun high school friend, ranting about all the attention the media are giving to this one unlucky kid in Florida. There’s your former baby-sitter, posting a three-paragraph status about her cat’s diarrhea.
Of course “batshit crazy” is subjective, and it’s likely that these people find my ironic selfies and lefty blog posts just as nuts as I find the stuff they choose to share. From all sides, Facebook just doesn’t feel safe any more. It doesn’t feel like the place your pals hang out, it feels like Grand Central Station: full of harried businesspeople, meandering tourists, and aggressive merchants.
If the likes of Vine, Instagram, and Twitter feel like relative havens, in part that’s because there’s a modest technical bar that excludes some of the less techno-savvy, but it’s also because of the clean and simple follow/unfollow structure all three are built on. If you use those apps, you likely follow a combination of trusted friends and cool people you wish were your friends. Their simple content streams make you feel more in control of what you’re sharing, and understanding who’s seeing it feels more transparent. (To some extent that’s an illusion, since most people set their accounts to public and hence can be anonymously peeped upon by anyone, any time.) Snapchat takes that simplicity and exclusivity to the next level, allowing you to send pics to only designated friends—and to tell if your shot’s been screencapped.
Facebook doubtless wants to remain relevant—famously, they held off monetizing until the site was already iconic—but they’ve already won their heat, and now they’re enjoying a victory lap, cashing in on lucrative ad buys from companies with the kind of money that you can’t get by smashing a piggy bank. Let’s leave them to enjoy it, tiptoeing quietly away while Bonobos tries to sell trousers to digital tourists.
Friending too quickly. When you get home from a party and there’s a friend request waiting from someone you met at the party, it’s kind of awkward, whether you like them or not. Waiting until the next day to make that request says, “I have a life, I need to sleep, and I wasn’t afraid I’d forget who you were 12 hours later.” The pinnacle of awkwardness is when someone pulls out their phone and asks how you spell your name, so they can request you right there on the spot. On-the-spot friending is an almost 100% accurate predictor of later awkwardness.
Unfriending too quickly. If you’re upset with people, try just hiding them from your newsfeed and/or putting them on limited profile access. When you’re absolutely positive that friendship isn’t coming back—like, say, a year after you’ve broken up with their best friend from high school—then unfriend. Isn’t it awkward when you get a friend request from someone you didn’t realize had unfriended you in a fit of pique? Don’t be that person.
Like negative things. “Oh my God, today was the WORST. My boss bitched me out, and my mom had to go to the hospital because she forgot to check her blood sugar and passed out. I might as well just kill myself now. [2 people like this].” Who does that? (If you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, consider that they might just have fat fingers. On an iPhone, it’s dangerously easy to like things accidentally.)
Liking your own posts. Even if you do this ironically, it still looks douchey. Pro tip: When you like a post on a page you’re an administrator of, the like is credited to the page, not to you personally. Don’t make your page look douchey.
Post photos of yourself gazing deeply into your webcam. Your MacBook may see your soul, but all we see is awkwardness.
Friending people just to invite them to events. The friend request comes in, and you’re like, wow, this guy knows 75 of my friends—he must be cool! No, it’s because he sent requests to all 1,000 of your friends, and 75 of them fell for it. You’ll now have the inside scoop on all his upcoming fire-eating performances.
Create an event called “Lost My Phone—Need Your Digits!” What do you do when you get invited to one of these events by an acquaintance you’re pretty sure didn’t have your number in the first place? Do you send it to them? Awkward. Do you ignore the invite? Awkward! Humankind must have invented a better system than this.
Share an ethnic joke and note that you got it from a friend of that ethnicity. If you’re going to post a video where a guy in peyos and a yarmulke adapts the lyrics of “Bitches Ain’t Shit” to “Goyim Ain’t Yids,” don’t throw your Jewish friend under the bus for it.
RSVPing to private parties you weren’t invited to. Oh, so that guy who pulled out his phone and friended me at a nightclub two years ago is coming to my Memorial Day pool party? That’s awkward.
Full disclosure: Jay Gabler will admit to once RSVPing to a barbecue he hadn’t been invited to, hosted by someone he’d never met in person. Even though he didn’t actually attend the barbecue, it was still really awkward.
0-10 photos: You’re a super sexy spambot.
10-50 photos: You’re 70+ years old. You say you’re only on Facebook because of your grandchildren, but actually you’re stalking all the singles in your assisted living facility. You don’t accept most of your grandchildren’s friend requests, and you say it’s because you don’t know how to use Facebook, but actually it’s because you don’t like the amount of bad language they use in their status updates.
50-200 photos: You’re 40-70 years old. You say you’re only on Facebook because of your children, and that was true…until the divorce.
200-500 photos: You’re extremely conscious of your image. Most photos that you’re tagged in, you immediately untag. When you’re feeling especially self-conscious, you go back through all your tagged photos and untag the one or two you like least.
500-1,000 photos: You’ve had at least one major relationship that ended. The first time you saw your ex with another guy/girl, you went home, finished that box of wine in the fridge, and cried while you untagged hundreds of photos.
1,000-2,000: You’re just an average person.
2,000-5,000: You’re EITHER in high school and haven’t yet untagged/deleted all those Photo Booth pics from when you were bored in study hall in junior high OR you’re very social, and probably either noticeably more attractive or noticeably less attractive than average.
5,000 or more: You do a lot of drugs. Like, a lot.
Well, I don’t know about a billion dollars—I’m no venture capitalist. But over the past couple of weeks I’ve realized that Instagram has become my #1 go-to social app: if I’m waiting in line at the bank or hung over in bed, I’ll open Instagram before checking Twitter or Facebook or even Tumblr. Why is Instagram so great right now? Here are five things it’s got going for it.
1. It’s a visual Twitter. “Limits equal freedom” sounds very Big Brother, but it’s a lesson Facebook learned from the sparkly train wreck of MySpace, and that Twitter learned from Facebook, and that Instagram has now learned from Twitter. Instagram doesn’t have any links or events or apps or even GIFs—it’s just a steady stream of photos. There’s something soothing about that; you can watch it like a movie.
2. Filters. There’s been much discussion about whether Instagram filters are for twee dilettantes (versus Serious Photographers), but take away the names and the frames, and Instagram filters are really just an accessible version of the tools Serious Photographers have always had access to: changing brightness, contrast, and saturation. A filter can’t make a bad photo good—no more than Photoshop can fix a screwed-up DSLR shot—but it can enhance and clarify, making the photo more attractive and effective. Having that tool onboard is a no-brainer for a good photo sharing app.
3. Integration. I use Instagram for almost all my photo posting now, because it’s so elegantly integrated with other social media: when you post a photo to Instagram, you can easily select which other networks you want to share it with. Best of all, it’s much more reliable for uploading than most Twitter photo-sharing services, and way more reliable than the Tumblr app. It’s just the fastest and least frustrating way to share your photos online.
4. It’s at the sexy sweet spot of network adoption. You know that point in a social network’s life when it seems like it’s used by all the people you want to see your shit, and none of the people you don’t? Facebook toppled off this peak years ago, Twitter’s on its way downhill, and right now Tumblr and Instagram are sharing space at the summit. Chelsea Fagan recently wrote on her Tumblr, “I just took the time to write a bottom-of-the-barrel-scrapingly witty status on Facebook and I just kind of sighed and thought, ‘What the hell am I doing here? I don’t want approval from that pregnant chick I went to high school with and my bullshit new-agey aunt.’” That pregnant chick and the new-agey aunt have their Facebook (and Pinterest), and the rest of us have Tumblr and Instagram. For now.
5. It’s mobile-only. Well, not purely. If your Instagram account is open, your photos exist on individual Web pages that are linked to when you share your photos. But those pages aren’t linked to each other, so you can’t navigate Instagram on a browser: you have to use the mobile app. (Try the Instagallery app for your iPad; it feels like seeing your favorite classic movie on the big screen.) That gives Instagram a feeling of intimacy and privacy that makes it feel weirder to follow a stranger on Instagram than it is to follow him/her on Twitter or even to friend him/her on Facebook. Instagram still feels like a little mobile clubhouse. Will Facebook be able to preserve that feeling? Probably not, so enjoy it while it lasts.