Quitting Facebook: Breaking Up is Hard to Do.

[tweetmeme source=bradmehl only_single=false]

The Anti-Facebook movement is growing. The Four NYU students that have organized a Quit Facebook Day for May 31 – as a reaction to growing concerns about the social network’s privacy policy and casual regard for user data – have succeeded in getting mainstream media coverage. The group is even planning to launch its own open source social network where users are fully in control of their own data and who sees it; they’ve raised over $150,000 for the project so far. Pay attention: this is how  revolutions begin.

A recent poll on Mashable shows that 27% of Facebook users plan on quitting the service on May 31. Concerns are mounting but will huge numbers of Facebook users leave (without a better mousetrap to use)? It’s doubtful. These survey results are not predictive of what will happen for a several reasons:

  1. The Mashable audience is not representative of the general public. And I’m not sure the survey is even representative of the Mashable audience.
  2. What people say they are going to do and what they actually do are very different. Ask any market researcher.
  3. There are no suitable replacements to Facebook right now that provide an easy migration path. A combination of services like Twitter and Google buzz would be inconvenient. Some people could set up a Ning group (or use second tier social networks like hi5) but those lack the critical mass of user activity that Facebook provides, with the possible exception of LinkedIn for the business audience. But although LinkedIn has many social aspects to it, people don’t use LinkedIn to let their friends know that Iron Man 2 was a good movie or that the party has moved to 22 Main Street. That’s Facebook.
  4. Switching to another service would be hard. Of course it’s easy for an individual to sign up for something else, but it will be tough to convince an entire group of friends to do the same, when their friends remain plugged-in. Also, Facebook does not allow people to easily export their “likes” to any other service, so the effort people have made in expressing their preferences and interests will be for naught if they leave Facebook.  (Facebook, not users, owns the “likes” people expressed on Facebook or any other site that features the Facebook “Like” button)
  5. To frequent users of Facebook, leaving is worse than getting your phone number de-listed. When your number is delisted, it is (hopefully) taken out of the public domain but your friends still know your phone number. If power users quit Facebook, they’ll begin to feel isolated because many of their friends and peers won’t know where they “are” — what they’re doing in real time, who they’re new friends are, what their recommending etc.
  6. Quitting Facebook is like giving up part of your identity, at least for frequent users of the service. Many years ago, when I was with Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, we used clinical psychologists to probe consumers’ connections with brands and products. What emerged from this market research was a short list of universal human needs — and identity was at the top of the list. Facebook is so ingrained in the lives of its audience that The Profile (and it’s associated data points) have become part of people’s identity — and that’s a hard thing to abandon.

So like it or not Facebook is here to stay.  Personally, I’m on Facebook periodically but not heavily.  Last year I did an experiment and gave it up completely for a few months.   And here’s a revelation for everyone:   my identity was intact, my friends still called me and life went on.  But then again, I was never a power user of Facebook.


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