What on earth are Facebook doing?
Imagine going into a stationery store and buying a Filofax personal organizer and then over time filling it with personal contacts info, photos and notes.
You come home one night and it's no longer on the coffee table by the phone, instead there's a note from Filofax saying there's a change of terms and conditions. You call Filofax: 'Where's my Address Book?'
"Oh we published it online - just go to this url and you'll see all your information".
"Are you kidding me?!"
Facebook have changed their default security settings so everything I write on my account at that site is now available to everyone on the planet. I think... I'm not sure what's going on anymore with who can see what on my account and don't have time to find out.
Marshall Kirkpatrick over at Read Write Web has been struggling to parse the twists and turns of Facebook's default security settings. It appears, and I'm not sure, that they want to encourage you to be more open with your information....I think.
Facebook is a free service I have an easy come, easy go relationship with; the understanding is they will fund themselves by advertising to me... I think...I don't really care how they support themselves as long as they provide me with a useful service.
Hey - this is just like AOL!
Facebook, despite historically being a walled environment like AOL was in the 90's, was significantly more flexible than LinkedIn was a couple of years ago and I now use Facebook and LinkedIn interchangeably as an address and contact details site, often depending on how people choose to contact me.
Linked In now has much greater interoperability and crucially a pretty clear and unchanging sense of privacy (famous last words). It is also zero cost to me, just as Twitter is, and I use these services like millions of others because they have some value and utility to me.
There are giant swathes of functionality I never go near - I don't play games or use other embedded apps on Facebook or poke people, I don't post on Twitter my emotional state around the demise of Michael Jackson and I don't respond to requests for friendship from people I don't know who send me kisses and suggestions of future intimacy.
What Facebook don't seem to have learnt is the lesson myspace.com - the world's biggest collection of animated gifs and auto playing sound files - have learnt after the rise of Facebook.
If you don't look after your user's browsing experience and look after their information and content responsibly they will migrate to the next free shiny object and you will lose momentum.
Youtube.com is now arguably equal to myspace.com in promoting music, being equipped with the excellent sound and vision tools people embed on MySpace (and Facebook pages, if you can still figure out how to do it).
I'm not invested in any of this
I have a social graph on Facebook but I have Twitter, where I also have a more unstructured social graph, feed my tweets through to Facebook.
Everything moves on and all these services either add value to my life, possibly to a point where they propose I pay for service, or a newer service appears which trumps the previous generation.
Just like in business you're either growing or shrinking, there are no plateaus. You're either adding value or being annoying.
Shiny objects dull over time, and don't assume changing my rules of use of our casual relationship on your service without properly informing me in clear language what you are doing is a positive step.
As a consumer I'm not going to waste bandwidth divining what you're changing, I just get a queasy sense that stuff I thought was between my friends is now out on the internet. I've already seen thumbnail photos of people I know in Google image searches that refer back to Facebook pages I don't have access to unless I 'friend' them.
I don't know how or why that happens but it shrinks my enthusiasm for adding personal pictures to my Facebook page.
It's the 'don't know' that will kill you
Facebook is supposedly all about relationships...building trust is a core component of being friends with people and being there for them.
Is Facebook my friend if they keep changing the rules of our relationship unilaterally? Or I hear they are making obscure changes to our social contract I don't understand?
I don't think so, and that starts me reappraising our relationship - what ARE those gimpy little ads on the right hand side....what's this: "Your Profile Is NAKED - Smack hot tattoos right on your profile page and share them with friends. It's free and easy".
Why aren't there any big brand ads on here? Maybe this is all a bit rinky dink, I wonder what other options I have out there for social networking?
Just because Facebook is now huge in Estonia or somewhere doesn't mean it's still useful to me in California.
Don't confuse businesses, Facebook!
I'm deliberately coming at this through the eyes of an uninformed and unaware consumer in this post of course, but the lack of clarity around the shifting opacity into user privacy confuses the heck out of people considering 'Facebook in the enterprise'.
Inside companies, sophisticated user permissions structures define what 'groups' employees belong to, and what sensitive intellectual property they have authority to be aware of and see.
If the consumer space continues to appear to consist of ever shifting sands over what personal information is in fact surfaced as public, that's another thing to break the Pepto -Bismol out over for the brave souls in large companies who have to reassure senior management they are running a leak free system.
Facebook need to get a grip before they start the descent their competitors are enduring because they lost the trust and faith of their users.
Maybe I'll start taking my paper based Filofax personal organizer more seriously and keep it somewhere safe...