Could you quit Facebook for 99 days?

In wake of psychological experiment, group challenges users to take a Facebook break and find out if it makes them happier

What would you do with your time if you gave up Facebook for 99 days?

Stepping away from the comments, posts, likes and selfies for 99 days could give you more time to read a book, hang out with friends or go for a bike ride.

A non-profit group out of The Netherlands -- dubbed 99 Days of Freedom -- is challenging Facebook users to step away from the social network for 99 consecutive days and then report back on how the break affected their happiness.

The challenge comes in the wake of last week's worldwide brouhaha over news that 700,000 Facebook users were surreptitiously used in a psychological study for a week in 2012.

Facebook declined to comment on 99 Days of Freedom.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said the effort is likely an emotional response to Facebook's psychological experiment.

"There are benefits for any user to question their time and how frequently they use Facebook," he added. "I think some will find benefit [from stepping away], but very quickly they'll be back on. In a way, we are addicted to Facebook. Our friends and family are on it, so we have a hard time getting away."

According to Facebook, its users spend an average of 17 minutes on the site every day, or 8.5 hours in a 30-day month.

So far, the non-profit site reports that more than 1160 people have agreed to take up their challenge. That's a drop in the bucket for a social network with more than 1 billion users, but the organisers hope the number will grow exponentially as word gets out.

The group even walks potential users through some steps that would make taking a break even easier.

For instance, the instructions show how to replace your profile picture with a time-off image and how to create a 99-day countdown clock.

Participants also are asked to complete an anonymous "happiness survey" at the 33-day, 66-day and 99-day marks. The results will be posted on 99daysoffreedom.com, which will also host a message board where participants can discuss their experience.

"Like a lot of Facebook users, many of us were bothered by reports of secret mood experiments," said Merijn Straathof, one of the people behind the project, in a statement.

"As we discussed it internally, we noted an interesting tendency: To a person, everyone had at least a 'complicated' relationship with Facebook. Whether it was being tagged in unflattering photos, getting into arguments with other users or simply regretting time lost through excessive use, there was a surprising degree of negative sentiment," Straathof said.

"Then someone joked, 'I guess that the real question is, 'How do you feel when you don't use Facebook?' There was group laughter, followed by, 'Wait a second. That's a really good question!" he added.

Straathof said damaging Facebook's image is not the goal of the challenge.

"Facebook is an incredible platform. We're all fiercely loyal users and we believe that there's a lot to love about the service," he said. "But we also feel that there are obvious emotional benefits to moderation. Our prediction is that the experiment will yield a lot of positive personal experiences and, 99 days from now, we'll know whether that theory has legs."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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