Are you feeling lucky?

An interview with the hacker behind Social Roulette, the banned app which gives you a 1 in 6 chance of deleting your Facebook account

Are you feeling lucky?

by Rob Walker | Yahoo Tech

If you’ve ever fantasized about quitting Facebook once and for all, but can’t quite pull the trigger, Kyle McDonald has a solution for you — sort of.

Social Roulette, which he created with a couple of collaborators, bills itself as a game: Sign in with your Facebook credentials, and it has a once in six chance of deleting your account. Clearly the idea has its appeal; in a matter of days Social Roulette has, amusingly, attracted 10,000 Facebook “likes,” and attention from various tech blogs and others. Here’s the back story.

The project was inspired in part by another Facebook underminer: FriendFracker, which was designed to allow users of the social network to delete random sets of friends. FriendFracker was created by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Harper Reed as part of the digital-arts organization Rhizome’s annual Seven on Seven event; my Yahoo colleague Jason Gilbert covered it here. McDonald liked the element of chance, but “felt like it didn't go far enough,” he told me via email. “I wanted to create a game that made people nervous.” And if a player’s account wasn’t deleted, the fact that he or she had played and “survived” would be announced on the user’s timeline — a “badge of ‘honor,” as McDonald put it.

McDonald, an artist and educator whose work often tweaks at technology and how we use it, mentioned his idea to Jonas Lund last Friday and they brought in Jonas Jongejan and “hacked it together as a 4 hour speed project.” On Saturday, McDonald posted about it on the blog of F.A.T. Lab (a tech-creativity organization with a hackerish bent).

Among those who noticed right away: Facebook, which not surprisingly disabled the API key for Social Roulette (as it did for FriendFracker). It’s not clear how many people got a chance to play — let alone how many lost. But while McDonald says he and his collaborators are working on a fix, he also explains that this is actually beside the point. “Social Roulette is a provocation, not a tool,” he says. Indeed, the somewhat fishy endorsement blurbs on the site (from Gawker, Douglas Rushkoff, and Bruce Sterling, among others) are, he admits, fabrications.

Does that mean the whole thing is just a prank? McDonald frames it as something more ambiguous. “My favorite feedback came from a friend on Facebook who wrote that he played, and his account was not deleted, but he felt like after playing he now had the peace of mind to delete his account,” he says, and that’s the real goal: “Social Roulette is a gift to everyone who feels like they can't delete their Facebook account.”

Like Friendfracker, Social Roulette addresses mixed emotions about social networking that have been with us for a while. McDonald points to a couple of previous social media “suicide machine” projects, as well as Burger King’s “Whopper Sacrifice” promotion from a few years ago (which involved deleting 10 friends in exchange for a free burger). My colleague Gilbert also came across an earlier student project proposal for a “Russian Facebook Roulette,” which imagined putting one’s Facebook account at risk of deletion for a chance to win a trip to Russia.

Clearly, then, there’s some kind of strange mashup of anxiety, irritation and obligation in the way we think about the social media identities so many of us have built, and that’s what Social Roulette is provoking us to confront. Actually playing such a game matters less than thinking about exactly why you would or wouldn’t — whether the notion is too scary, or irresistibly tempting, or both.

Maybe that’s why McDonald doesn’t seem particularly concerned that Facebook has shut the game down: “Considering how many people don't know it's currently broken, but are still visiting and posting about it,” he told me, “I would say it's still working right now!”