Facebook’s privacy changes are drawing a lot of fire, but they work pretty well for me, and are at bottom a positive change. But the way Facebook presents these changes is untrustworthy, and makes the company seem even more untrustworthy than they are being.
Facebook now makes it easier for you to share information with the world, and to make that choice on a post-by-post basis, and to share posts with a specific set of people. In the past, I didn’t share much on Facebook because the conversation would be walled off – no discovery, no memory. Now it will be more appealing to share discussion topics.
Many people perceived Facebook as a comfortable space where they could share private thoughts, but that has never been true for me. My Facebook friend set is a weird mix of family members, high-school/college alums, political folk, business contacts, and personal friends. There aren’t many topics that I want to share with all of those audiences, and it wasn’t possible to target a post to a particular set.
Facebook’s new post-sharing mechanism is a couple of excess clicks away from being brilliant. For each post, you can choose to share a post with a specific friend list – so I can send a message to political friends, or family, or music fans, etc. The only problem is that it takes too many clicks to do this. The option is a bit hidden – then the top level of the option set is the abstract “friends, friends-of-friends, networks” – only at the third level is the choice to target a post to a list.
All together, the ability to share openly, plus a greater ability to target posts to lists, make Facebook a much more congenial place for me to share information and start conversations.
The one thing I hate is their mandated sharing of information with applications. This is a consumer rights problem, an incentive not to use Facebook applications – and call for protest.
A lot of the to-do is in the change of expectations – Facebook’s model was socially construed to be about privacy, while Twitter’s model was socially construed to be about sharing – so people have a strong emotional reaction about the change in model – even if the underlying capabilities still allow a lot of privacy – and allow *more* control over what you share to whom.
And a lot of the to-do is in the obnoxious and clumsy way that Facebook presents the changes – it encourages people to open everything up all at once. It’s still hard to understand, and comes with the kind of smarmy, it’s in your own good language you expect from corporations that are imposing sneakily anti-customer policy updates on customers. Facebook does not come off as very trustworthy, even as they are making underlying changes that make the product better.
Facebook has a large enough audience and stickiness because of the people, that people will stick around to adapt to the changes, and Facebook will become more useful as a result. I still dream of the day when we will have truly decentralized social networks, where individuals manage their own information, and share as they please, without being sharecroppers to a social network plantation, where our identity and information is the product being grown and sold.