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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Breaking Up Is Hard When the Web Site Isn’t Ready to Quit

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Ah, those online relationships.

First you’re smitten by a social network or Web service and can’t stop spending time on it. Then it starts asking how you’re feeling, what you like, where you are, with whom, and why you don’t share as much anymore.

Pretty soon, you’re ready to call it quits.

But trying to end your relationship with some prominent online services can be like breaking up with an overly attached romantic partner â€" they make it pretty hard to say goodbye.

And with good reason â€" more users are beneficial to a company’s bottom line, which often depends on generating revenue by selling you targeted advertisements. Possibly no social network understands this better than Facebook, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, proudly announced last October that his site had surpassed one billion active users.

“Their business model is about getting users to create content,” said Jeremiah Owyang, an industry analyst with the Altimeter Group. “It’s users who are creating content, liking things, and, ultimately, a brand sees this and comes to deploy advertising dollars. The product is us.”

Still, not every site takes the “Never Gonna Give You Up” approach. Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of the social news site Reddit, said that if users wanted to delete an account, “they should be able to do that as easily as they signed up.”

“It puts the onus on us to keep delivering a great product, and not retaining users simply because they can’t find the exit,” he said.

And remember, even if you say goodbye, like Rick and Ilsa in “Casablanca,” you’ll always have Paris.

FACEBOOK Given Facebook’s history of privacy controversies â€" and its general tendency to occupy vast amounts of time â€" some people may eventually feel the need to leave, or at least take a break from the service.

To quit entirely, log on to your account and go to https://www.facebook.com/help/delete_account. After hitting the Delete My Account box, you’ll be asked to enter your password.

If you want to download a copy of your photos, posts and messages before leaving the service, you can do that from the account settings page, which can be quickly reached by clicking on that little round gear icon at the top right of the Facebook home page.

Unlike many sites, Facebook gives you 14 days to change your mind before your account is permanently deleted. The company knows it has hooked hundreds of millions of users, many of whom won’t be able to stay away and will come crawling back.

The site will also let you take a temporary break from the relationship by letting you deactivate your account. Unlike deleting, deactivating it will merely disable your profile, although some features, including sent messages, may remain visible to others. You can return at any time, with your information intact.

But Facebook makes it harder to put the relationship on hiatus than to leave permanently. Before you can deactivate your account, Facebook asks you to provide a reason for quitting. Choices range from “I spend too much time using Facebook” to “I don’t understand how to use Facebook.” For nearly all selections, the company pleads with you to stay. Don’t find Facebook useful? It responds by advising you to connect with more friends.

According to a Facebook spokeswoman, this is less about being clingy, and more about being consumer-driven by giving users “the power to decide what action is right for them.”

After selecting your reason for leaving, hit Confirm. You’ll have to re-enter your password, then hit the Deactivate Now box.

Not surprisingly, Facebook ends things by saying, “We hope you come back soon.” Which, let’s face it, you probably will.

GOOGLE PLUS Google tries to entangle you in multiple, distinct services like Google Plus, Gmail and YouTube â€" all connected. And it can track your activity across all of them and show you ads.

A version of this article appeared in print on April 18, 2013, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.