I appreciate this will have been done to death already, but here’s my first thoughts on Facebook’s announcements at F8 on Thursday. I am interested in people first and foremost so my fascination with social technologies has always been largely about the sociological aspects and how we’re evolving (etc!!).
Facebook v Google+
Up until now I had felt that Google Plus‘ influence on Facebook would purely be as a wake up call, creating that tiny little fire of competition that would make Facebook sit up and think ‘We’ve been at this for 7 years and our chat feature still looks like something from the 80s- we’d better get our act together’. That clearly worked. The reason Google+ held no other interest for me was that it is almost exactly the same as the current Facebook, minus all my friends. But in a week or two that might just be what it has going for it. Google+ will stay at is while Facebook changes beyond recognition… (too dramatic?). My point is that for the first time, I considered taking Google+ more seriously because I wasn’t sure I could handle all the new Facebook changes. I’m still undecided.
Facebook stalking… and timelines.
Back when Facebook first gave you the option to download all your information and therefore have easy access to every post you’d ever made, my first reaction was ‘ooo!’; my second reaction, somehow against all my insatiable curious nature, was ‘maybe not right now’. The fact was it kind of terrified me… my generation really does bear it all on Facebook, and a big part of me was happy leaving the past in the past.
There will be some (most probably myself included) who will lock down access to past Timeline activity as soon as it becomes open. (I will probably then spend an awful lot of time deciding if and what I want to share). Most won’t lock down. This worries me mainly in terms of Facebook stalking. We all do it. And it hasn’t really mattered all that much because there isn’t all that much we can really see. The whole world has to self-regulate when it comes to social networks, and we haven’t had to do all that much self-regulating (i.e. knowing how far is too far) when there isn’t much information available. But once timeline becomes active, we’re onto a whole new level of potential ‘advanced stalking’. We’re all human and we’re all curious. If information becomes that easily accessible, we’re going to look. But the problem is, we’re not all that qualified to know when to stop, to know what might be too much information. Both in terms of what we share ourselves, and what we look at of other peoples’ pasts. Will lawyers and strategists start to pop up just to help us work out how much we should share? That’s the scariest thing with social technologies, there is no past president of behaviour. This makes it a). hard to know how to act responsibly, and b). very susceptible to people, personal or professional, jumping in to make judgements based on social conventions that existed pre-social technology.
On a more practical level regarding the above notes on sharing – there is a massive difference between the few (well 100,000 at my last count on the night) who actually watched, paid attention to and commented on Facebook’s #f8 conference, who like me are already considering how this will affect things and how we are going to edit our profile privacies etc. accordingly… and the millions of Facebook users who just use the damn thing, who don’t know the background of the changes, who don’t really care, and who currently only remember privacy settings when one of those arbitrary ‘your privacy settings have been changed without you knowing, act now!’ chain-statuses come around. People have been getting more savvy recently it’s true, but there are still enough people who I am not friends with, whose profiles are still open (or worse, who have friends of friends settings enabled – which means you have to REALLY trust all of your 400 or however many friends?!)… and in a few weeks time I will be able to read their life story.
Another quarry about Timelines… only recently did I realise that what I see as my profile is rarely what others see because of privacy settings on friends photos. For example if a friend has tagged me in their photo but only set the album’s privacy settings to ‘Friends’ that means that any of my friends who are not her friends cannot see said picture (I’m sure it used to be that as long as you were tagged then that photo was available to all you’re friends too – seemed to make more sense – alas the Facebook privacy saga continues). So actually, this whole concept of telling your story through your timeline won’t really work… your timeline will look distorted and incomplete to most everyone but yourself.
However, I do think Timeline is one of Facebook’s more thoughtful projects, because it does fit with what Facebook (in my view, feel free to argue) has evolved to be; your private space. (Yes yes nothing on the internet is private, I know, but it’s the closest we’ve got). It’s where I tell my close friends about important things, things that have effected me, are dear to me, and all that… I talk about what I know my close friends and family want to know about me and that’s it. Yes now that even more information will be on there I will be even more wary of who that includes – as Milo Yiannopoulos put it on Twitter: “When this update hits, I will be dramatically slashing the number of people who have access to my Facebook profile.” But that’s okay, because the main people I want to be connected to on Facebook will remain, and I’m happy for them to see my backstory. (I think, might change when I see it all!!).
Social Apps… really??
As for social apps (Facebook is linking in applications such as Spotify and The Guardian to automatically post your activity from these sites to your Facebook)… d’you know what? I’ve never really used the ones that have existed so far, and I don’t think I really ever will. Maybe I’m just a cynic?! To me it’s weighing up the cost. It seems like a small novelty (woo I’m listening to this song RIGHT NOW!) in return for complete access to my account by arbitrary businesses and services with no guaranteed data protection. This may be something that works and that I’m comfortable with in 30 years when
Facebook people are generally better at security and privacy options (people working on Facebook apps have said that the generic and horrendously encompassing privacy allowances within apps are forced upon the developer just as much as the user, even if they don’t require it). Facebook’s massive strength, the thing that differentiates it most from other networks such as Twitter, is its privacy, and people’s faith in the privacy. I honestly don’t think they can try and break that down without breaking down their USP.
Also, a petty annoyance regarding the Spotify app – didn’t MSN Messenger do the whole live ‘what you’re listening to’ almost 10 years ago?! Not that impressive a development in that case. Also, socially, it made more sense with MSN Messenger because, based on 1-to-1 conversations it meant you could see what someone was listening to as you talked to them, and thus could ascertain something of their mood, or have a talking point. It all seems a bit random and irrelevant in the context of a news feed, no?
Personally, I have now deleted almost all my social apps on Facebook (none of which I used anyway). It will take a lot to persuade me otherwise. But in all honesty I know I will get on board with the timeline… I love social technology, so when something comes along to make it even prettier… its catnip. To be honest the thing that’s most likely to make me throw my laptop out of the window at the moment is the damn ‘top stories’ news feeds… does ANYONE understand that?!
So there are my initial reactions.. it may be ranty and a bit personal, but my generation have been with Facebook the longest and therefore one hopes we have the greatest ability to make sure it doesn’t f**k everything up. Like I say, all social networking is governed by self-regulation and that alone… so here I am, attempting to self-regulate.
(Picture Credit: Alfarah Black)