Like many people in the free software community, I feel vaguely guilty about using Facebook. Microsoft’s investment in the site makes me queasy, and Facebook’s privacy problems raise issues that are close to my heart. Moreover, I have no interest in games like Farmville or Mafia Wars (or, rather, I can guess all too clearly how obsessive I would be once I started), or sending virtual gifts, and I long ago exhausted the pleasure of taking meaningless quizzes. Instead, I use Facebook more as an address book with a chat channel attached to it.
You can see how I use the site through the breakdown of my list of friends. As I scan the list, most people on it fall clearly into one of eleven categories, although a few could be placed in several categories:
According to my quick tally:
- 15% are First Nations artists, or relatives or spouses of first nations artists. The main reason I friended the artists was to see the photos of their work that they post, although some have become personal friends as well.
- 5% are fellow writers and journalists in the computer field – usually ones who write largely about free and open source software.
- 5% are editors, about two-thirds of which I interact with regularly and submit articles to at least once per month.
- 12% are subject matter experts. Although some are friends, the main advantage of being connected to them on Facebook is that when I need a quote or an explanation, I can hop on line and chat quickly with them. This is easy to do, because most are logged in to Facebook during regular business hours in North America.
- 6% are business experts I’ve met and often interviewed while writing articles. On the whole, they tend not to be on Facebook often, but Facebook is another way to reach them when necessary.
- 29% are either members of the free software community whose expertise I might need in a story or else professionals who work in marketing, communication, technical writing, public relations, or some other field that I have dabbled in.
- 20% are people with whom I went to school. Most of these are very light Facebook users and not accustomed to chat, so my interaction with most of them is limited largely to occasional remarks about each other’s status.
- 4% are people in high-tech with whom I have worked in the past.
- Less than 1% are friends who have nothing to do with work or my art interests.
- Less than 1% are actual family members.
- 1 person is dead (and I can’t quite bring myself to remove him)
I’ve rounded the numbers, so the total does not add up to 100%.
Even so, this breakdown gives an accurate picture of how I use Facebook. Overwhelming, for me Facebook is a tool for business and for my major pastime of studying Northwest Coast Art. That sounds like I don’t use it for socializing, but that would be deceptive, since I consider many people in these categories friends.
Apparently, though, it’s not enough that I should feel guilty about using Facebook. Now, I need to feel guilty for not using it for completely mindless purposes as well.