The term “social network” is ironic, because it largely applies to systems on the internet that are themselves anti-social. For instance, Facebook and Twitter don’t really talk directly to each other. If I have one group of friends on Twitter and another on Facebook, I have to use a third-party tool like TweetDeck  to see information posted on both of them. While Facebook has made grudging steps toward a kind of faux-openness over time, Twitter at least defines an API that allows other programs to talk to it; however, that API only goes one way. For instance, if I have a friend on Twitter I cannot subscribe to them through anything but Twitter.
And so I prefer to live my web social life on Statusnet . Statusnet is open-source social networking, ala Twitter. You can form communities of friends, post status updates up to 140 characters in length (although that limit is not strictly enforced), share photos, etc. But unlike Twitter, you can run your OWN Statusnet community (c.f.  and ). Your community is, however, not a walled garden. Since Statusnet implements the OpenMicroBlogging protocol, you can subscribe to ANY friend on another OpenMicroBlogging-enabled system (e.g. identi.ca ) from within your own community without having an account on that other system. You just remote subscribe to them (e.g. email@example.com) and you get their updates. Your replies go to them on their platform. It’s pretty sweet. (All you Statusnet supporters out there: remote subscribe to firstname.lastname@example.org to support ABC’s choice of Statusnet over Twitter!)
Running my own Statusnet instance allows me to maintain a close community of friends and family. We can communicate with each other without the fear of millions of prying eyes watching our every status update. We can share photos and general silliness.
However, the closed nature of Facebook and Twitter often turns to blame for Statusnet. For instance, my sister has repeatedly complained that Statusnet is “too much work” because she can’t post something on Facebook and have it appear on Statusnet. The problem is not Statusnet; the problem is that Facebook provides no mechanism for exporting your data once you post it on Facebook. You are locked into their anti-social network. Complaining about Statusnet when Facebook is the problem is like complaining about about the right of free speech in Country A when you’ve chosen to live a brutal totalitarian dictatorship in Country B; it’s not Country A’s fault you have no rights in Country B . . . after all, YOU chose to go live there.
And, ironically, this is exactly the situation that millions of people have chosen to live in. Facebook boasts 500 million active users – more than the population of the U.S. Many of these netizens are people in the U.S., a real country where free speech, property, and many other principles of our democracy are apparently cherished rights worth dying for. Yet, these same Americans have actively entered a virtual community where they have no right to own their speech, their photos, or any other information they post on Facebook. These people have given up their founding principles for the convenience of Facebook.
So I say: quit whining. There are plenty of virtual communities on the net where freedom and ownership are founding principles. Next time you complain about being unable to cross-post between Facebook and Statusnet, remember: you’re the one who chose to live in a brutal dictatorship.