A birthday reminder

And the one job in my life that Facebook was actually good for

It was my 35th birthday yesterday.

A wonderful friend and subscriber to this newsletter (hey Andrew!), upon wishing me happy birthday, pointed out that because I’m not on Facebook he nearly forgot. This strange quiet job Facebook has been doing for us, as we leave in droves, is dying.

In the heady early days of Facebook there seemed to be healthy competition for who would get the most birthday messages on their big day. It was also a nice extra dopamine hit alongside the real-life celebrations with close friends and family. Alas. No more can it be relied on as the source of truth for who to congratulate and when.

I’ve not existed on Facebook for a couple of years now, and hadn’t logged in for a couple of years before that.

My birthday messages, therefore, dried up. But more than that, I now can’t find out when my friends’ birthdays are without either asking them or finding out through others, which is awkward because I really should know by now.

So instead I miss my friends birthdays. And then I feel bad. (Incidentally, I tweeted about my birthday this year, which helped. I think everyone should do that.)

Sometime last year another good friend (Hi Alick!) shared with me his idea of a ‘birthday reminder’ app.

This app would, in a lightweight doodle-esque way, allow me to share a link with friends and family for them to add in their birthdays, and in exchange they’d get mine. Then each of us might get a daily or weekly digest of who’s birthdays we should prepare for with gifts or messages on the day.

Alick had hacked together this app with Google sheets and was using it with his family. It turns out, it’s still going! The family love it.

“Oh, I’d leave Facebook but…”

Instagram, to take another example, is a great curated photo album. I rarely use Instagram now, but I can still scroll back through my posts and be reminded of some of my favourite moments from the last decade. I don’t actually need the likes, the messaging, the videos or stories. I frankly don’t need to see anyone else’s content.

I wonder, which other small jobs and simple interactions from apps like Facebook and Instagram are truly valuable? Which are just the product of companies seeking engagement and generating dopamine hits?

As we reject open social media and become more private again, what will we take with us? What would we pick from their bones if we shut them down?

Anyway. I’m going to take Alick’s setup, give it a go and see if I can make it work for me too. No more forgetting birthdays.

If anyone else wants to try it, he’s happy to share. Just hit reply and I’ll hook you up.

486/500 words.

Thanks for reading this, one of my regular musings on building products, work-life balance, life as a founder and moving from designer to early-stage CEO and onwards. I expect that while I find a rhythm the content may jump around a bit, so please bear with me. You can also find me on Twitter and some older/longer writing on jonnyburch.com.

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