Facebook’s platforms went down for almost seven hours a few days ago. We imagine you know that already because it made headlines all over the world. It was the worst outage experienced by the platform since 2008 and led to rumours that a malicious entity had taken it out in a targeted attack. Facebook says that wasn’t the case. Instead, the problem has been pinned on a faulty configuration change that knocked out Facebook’s DNS settings and made it hard for engineers to get back into the system and solve the problem. Lessons will undoubtedly be learned from this at Facebook, but great reputational damage has been done to the company.
When the 2008 outage happened, the incident didn’t make headlines. Facebook wasn’t the big deal back then that it is now. It was popular and had tens of millions of users – none of whom could get online that day – but tens of millions is nothing compared to the 2.9bn regularly active users the platform has today. It also didn’t have a portfolio of sister companies back then. When Facebook went down, it took Instagram and WhatsApp with it. Suddenly, three methods of staying in touch with friends that people have become accustomed to disappeared at once. It was nothing more than an inconvenience to most users, but for a few, it will have briefly made them feel very isolated and lonely.
There’s more to the cost of Facebook going down than the social cost. There’s also the economic cost to companies that advertise and operate on Facebook platforms. Consider the Facebook online slots page, for example. The profit margins of operating online slots are very narrow because of the competitiveness of the industry. Making a profit depends on having as many people playing slots as possible every hour of every day and using marketing tools to relentlessly drive people to those slots. The company or companies who run online slots on that page can’t afford six hours of downtime, but six hours of downtime is what they got. Other industries will have been similarly affected. This has been a painful reminder of how dependant on Facebook that many of us have become.
Perhaps it’s time to do something about that unhealthy level of dependency. Many people are reconsidering their relationship with Facebook at the moment, and if you’re one of them, these are the alternatives you might want to investigate.
Discord was built as a chat platform for gamers. During the past twelve months, we’ve seen it shift its focus and open itself up to become a chat platform for everybody – and people are responding to that move. The Wall Street Journal says that Discord generated $130m in revenue during 2020. That’s nothing compared to the hundreds of millions that Facebook makes every week, but it’s more than double what they made in 2019 and a sign that more and more people are embracing what the structured chat service has to offer. As a viable alternative to WhatsApp, Discord offers video chats, voice chats, group chats, and standard text messaging with all the MMS services you’d expect of such a platform. An estimated 350 million people already use Discord. That should reach 500m at some point next year, and the sky’s the limit.
This is a totally new kind of communication form. When text messaging became popular, chatting on the phone with your friends became unfashionable. Now, things are headed in the other direction. Twitter’s audio chat rooms have become popular, but Clubhouse specialises in the medium and has picked up roughly ten million regular users since launching in April 2020. That number is especially impressive when you consider that it didn’t become available on Android devices until May 2021. Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are both regular users of Clubhouse, although your chances of bagging a voice chat with either of them are fairly remote. If there’s nobody online you want to speak to, you can listen in to other chats and conversations if you so wish. It’s like live podcasting.
Almost every feature you’re accustomed to on Facebook also exists on MeWe. All that’s missing are the people. There are only about eight million registered users on MeWe, and of that number, just an estimated three million are active. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t take off and gain popularity at any given moment, though – especially given what’s just happened with Facebook. From tagging pictures to starting groups and creating private friends lists, MeWe lets you do just about anything you’d want a social media platform to do for you. It even allows you a little cloud storage space for pictures and documents if you’re willing to trust it to look after such things for you. Better still, MeWe is free from advertising. It looks a little plain, and it will charge you if you want to use some of the more specialist tools, but you might consider it a small price to pay for genuine privacy and freedom from being marketed to.
Yes, Twitter. It’s old, but it’s still there, and it gets a surge of interest every time there’s a problem with Facebook. So many people jumped on Twitter when Facebook went down that Twitter began to struggle with the additional traffic. It wobbled, but it didn’t go down. Many people who logged into Twitter for the first time in months – perhaps even years – suddenly realised that it’s not such a terrible place to be. You might not have the profile space to express yourself that you’d get with Facebook, and you have to keep posts short, but there’s always DMs if you want to have a more expansive conversation. Twitter has had privacy and advertising issues of its own in the past, but it’s generally more trusted than Facebook and appears – so far, at least – to experience less downtime.
Facebook has been a part of our lives for so long now that many of us have forgotten how to live without it, but it won’t be around forever. Something new will eventually come along and make it obsolete. Perhaps it’s one of the alternatives we’ve mentioned above. Maybe it will be something else. Whatever the case, always remember that alternatives exist. You are not a Facebook prisoner!