Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What do we want from Facebook . . .

Change has long been recognized as difficult.  W.H. Auden (left)  in "The Age of Anxiety" opines we would rather be ruined than changed.

Since you're reading this blog and I'm writing it, it's easy to assume we're aware (and most likely grappling with) the change in our social networking universe occasioned by the launch of  Facebook Connect. Touted by Facebook developers as "the next iteration of Facebook Platform that allows users to 'connect' their Facebook identity, friends and privacy to any site."

ABC news explained the changes this way:
On thousands of sites, including, a "social plug-in" now lets users "like" content and see what their Facebook friends have liked, directly from those sites.
On three sites piloting an "instant personalization" feature, a user's profile information and friend list are automatically read by the site and used to shape the user's experience. On music site Pandora, for example, you can see what your Facebook friends like to listen to. On Yelp, you can see which restaurants they've reviewed.
In the wake of this change, there has been considerable alarm expressed about Facebook in general and Facebook privacy issues in particular. There has also been considerable applause for the changes accompanied by accusations that those concerned  are over 35 and thus suffering from old fogeyism.

Facebook responded to user concerns through The New York Times' blog "Bits." SFGate, the on-line home of  The San Francisco Chronicle summed up what Elliot Schrage (right), Facebook's vice president for public policy, had to say this way:

  • Facebook is very sorry that the changes confused people, and it will do a better job ensuring that its privacy settings are more transparent in the future.
  • Facebook is not at all sorry about the substance of the changes. No one is being forced to join Facebook, and no one who does join is being forced to list their interests. "If you're not comfortable sharing, don't."

Mr. Schrage's on-line session was not well received. A Facebook page formed to protest the changes has attracted 95,000 members in 16 days. The Register (independent news, views, opinions and reviews on the latest in the IT industry; offices in London, Edinburgh, San Francisco, etc.) reports this morning that Facebook has called a "privacy crisis" meeting to deal with user grumblings bordering on rebellion.
The "all hands meeting" of Facebook staffers is due to take place at 4pm PDT on Thursday. It follows a critically panned attempt by Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president for public policy, to justify its privacy stance in an online Q&A with readers of The New York Times earlier this week.
The unofficial blog speculates that the meeting may result in the social network taking an opt-in approach to features that potentially expose users' private details, photos and opinions more widely. A temporary suspension of the recently introduced “Instant Personalization” service that involves the sharing of profile details with selected third-party websites is also a possibility.
Controlling individual privacy settings on Facebook has become an arcane process over recent weeks, as this visualization of the 150+ privacy options the site offers by the NYT illustrates. 
This all interests me so much, mainly because our society in general seems to court celebrity, exposure, notice, and on-line interaction. Has our romance with notice begun to sour? Has Facebook gotten too powerful and uppity? Is it the obvious tie-ins with Facebook ads that bothers us?

What, exactly do we want from Facebook?


  1. Very confused. Has FB changed my settings? I do remember a pop-up box asking me some question about the groups I was in and not letting me proceed until I did something I would rather not have done . . . . I couldn't close or exit or cancel, as I recall, but I couldn't tell you what it was I agreed to! I should pay better attention.

    I think Americans' obsession with celebrity is not inconsistent with people being up in arms about FB policy that infringes privacy rights. A great many of us may be voyeuristically inclined, but it doesn't go both ways; at least that's my impression. Most people I know (admittedly not college age kids) have been ambivalent about FB precisely because it may expose too much about them, and if they join, they do so only when assured that they have control over their profiles and friends. I'm not particularly concerned with privacy but it does annoy me greatly that FB is so unreliable in its interface.

  2. My "personal info" entries were my own, in my own words, until Facebook decided about 2 weeks ago that it needed to sort them out for me. Under each of about 60 nouns or phrases I had used, it gave me an icon and asked me if I wanted to share said noun or phrase. Otherwise the item got deleted. My page now has an assigned icon for each item that I didn't delete -- for instance, in my list of pets, under "Cats," there is a photo of somebody (not me) and her unidentified cat. I can't delete that photo without deleting my mention of feline companionship. The text that emerged after I had gone through all this was frequently garbled; it took some trial and error to (partially) clean it up. Under "Activities," I had listed "writing of many kinds, politicking, getting mad at the world, gardening, long walks, never enough time." Like that or not, it was mine. But now, each word in this string is in caps (looking stupid), and most are accompanied by a grayish logo of a three-part Tinker Toy-like structure (indicating no authentic logo could be found). I think the Gardening one does get a theme-related logo, such as some strange lady with an orchid. (Never grew one.) I guess sooner or later I'll receive emails for orchid sales, and should count myself lucky if Getting Mad At The World doesn't get me on a no-fly list. So much for the personal expression and individuality that F.B. claims to provide. Perhaps I'm an Old Fogy, but perhaps calling all who offer criticism of interference Old Fogies is a cheap excuse. --Chris Edwards

  3. Wow, Chris. You make me want to quit FB; that's just crazy. Lately I've noticed certain words get highlighted on my blog and when my cursor passes over them, pictures or ads pop up. Does this really complement the way people read and interact online? How can it not be seen as a distraction and interference to interject this stuff? Maybe I'm an old fogy, too, but I make no apologies for it.