Why organizers should leave it behind and where to begin

Disclaimer—I was not paid to write this piece; nor do I have any past, present, or promised affiliations with the companies mentioned herein.

The time to stop organizing on facebook is now. It’s no longer reasonable to ignore that its business model is naked exploitation—a banal grift to slowly harvest our collective identities and resell them on an exclusive market. While the platform has been hemorrhaging users lately, many groups have elected to remain and continue to organize there, often as their primary point of communication. To continue as normal would be irresponsible, but without a viable path to exit what are organizers supposed to do? The need to move on may be apparent, but the way forward is murky.

Adopting a divide-and-conquer strategy may be the most effective method of self-extraction. Identifying, replicating and replacing the most valuable comp-onents of the platform piecemeal will be the first steps in drawing users away. If a critical mass of alternatives are made available and widely adopted, there will be no reason for users not to abandon facebook. And in the absence of a clear alternative, the task of building the bridges towards a future without facebook falls upon leadership.

There will be no universal path to detach from facebook. Each group may choose a different variation of this strategy, but the core mission for any organizers can be distilled: Delete facebook if you can. If you can’t, provide alternative spaces and encourage people to use them. Most importantly, make them accessible; no one should need a specific device or account in order to be included.

Where to Begin

The point of departure in remaking organizing spaces will vary depending on the needs of each group, but I recommend beginning with the calendar. Events management is an area facebook has commanded since its inception, and users have come to see it as the book of record for keeping up with goings on. It would be impossible to succeed without dealing with this aspect of the platform’s dominance.

It’s no coincidence that facebook has placed significant barriers to access events from outside the browser — they know how valuable the service is and they deliberately encourage users to stay active in order to use it. It is possible, however, to use what little access is available to begin a process of migrating out.

But migrate into what? Luckily, calendars have been on the web more or less in the same format they are today for over two decades. Moreover, all smartphones old and new are capable of syncing with online calendars. Some can even push reminders when it’s time to leave, taking travel time into account using GPS. It is a well-understood problem space with plenty of solutions. Perhaps the one most widely-used is offered by Google.

It may seem absurd to suggest moving from facebook to Google would improve the situation, but there are good reasons to consider it as an option. As a hosted service (ie, somebody else’s problem), there is little-to-no maintenance required. The kind of maintenance that most would find too complex, expensive, or taxing to be practical. More importantly, Google Calendar is one of the few Google products that doesn’t require a Google account to use, moving the barrier to entry down below facebook.

Delete facebook if you can. If you can’t, provide alternative spaces and encourage people to use them. Most importantly, make them accessible; no one should need a specific device or account in order to be included.

Many tools to integrate with your Google Calendar already exist. Simple Calendar will display your events on any WordPress website; the Slack app for Google Calendar will post messages to your Slack workspace when events are updated or canceled; and Google’s thorough & well-documented APIs allow all kinds of custom tools suited for any purpose. But the best way to integrate with a Google Calendar is to encourage everyone to subscribe directly to it.

How to Transition

At this point you may be resolved to translate your calendar from facebook to Google (or something else like it), but what tools are required? The two most evident obstacles in transitioning will be finding a way to synchronize events between facebook and Google and providing a simple method to subscribe to the calendar with or without a Google account. Neither is impossible, but some technical skill is required.

Of these obstacles, providing a link to easily subscribe to the calendar is significantly easier but not without its pitfalls. Finding the link to share a Google Calendar is not simple. Furthermore, the links to subscribe to the calendar with and without a Google account are different from one another. More complicated still: it’s impossible to subscribe to the calendar with a Google account from a mobile device!

To demystify the process, I have set up a web app through the DSA to help people share calendars without the hassle. Simply grab your Google Calendar ID, paste it into the app & submit. The URL of the page that appears can be shared with anyone to help them subscribe to your calendar both with and without a Google account.

The more technically demanding problem is that of event synchronization. It will require a fair amount of setup to acquire the proper access tokens to read from facebook and write to Google. You will also need to choose a platform — such as Heroku or AWS — where the sync job will run automatically on some kind of schedule. I have authored a set of tools to help with these tasks.

Learn how to set up and deploy an app to sync facebook events with Google for yourself in the second part of this essay: Abandon Facebook II.

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