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Danah Confused By Facebook’s Fans

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Danah Boyd writes that she’s she is “utterly confused by the ways in which the tech industry fetishizes Facebook”.

She asks some good questions and makes some good points. Lets go through them. My answers in italics.

1. “In an effort to curb spam, they killed off legitimate uses of mass messaging, silencing those well-intentioned users that adored them.” Totally true. It’s ridiculous that I can’t add more than 5,000 contacts. Even worse is the scalability of the platform they designed. Many of the apps I’ve been using lately simply don’t work if you have more than a couple hundred of contacts.

2. “But what I don’t understand is why so much of the tech crowd who lament Walled Gardens worship Facebook.” Because there isn’t anything better. It’s like why we are so gaga over the iPhone. The iPhone is locked up tight and doesn’t let us play. But it is so superior to the alternatives that we’ll put up with all the walls. I’ve seen this play out before, though. Remember in 1989? Apple had the Macintosh II and was way ahead of any other platform. They ended up with, what, five percent market share because a more open platform steamrolled over them. It’s why I watch Plaxo so closely and keep cheering them on.

3. Join a City network and your profile is far more open than you realize. Ahh, the walls aren’t high enough! Heheh. One of the first things I recommend people to learn on Facebook is how to use the privacy settings to adjust who has access to your stuff.

4. The default is far beyond friends-only and locking a FB profile down to friends-only takes dozens of clicks in numerous different locations. Totally true. For many people changing their privacy settings will take too much work. Facebook would be good to come up with some scenario-based choices. “I don’t want anything available to anyone.” “I’m cool with some of my stuff, but not my private stuff available to my friends.” Etc., etc. Personally, I’m on the other end of the scale “I don’t want any walls between me and anyone who wants to see me.” I guess that’s why I have a blog along with a Facebook profile.

5. if you install an App, you give the creator access to all of your profile data (no one reads those checkboxes anyhow). Yes, true. Be careful of those apps. On the other hand that’s what makes apps work well for me.

6. I can’t wait to see how a generation of college students feel about their FB profile appearing at the top of Google searches. That outta make them feel good about socializing there. Not. Yikes. Not that evil Google! Personally I love that you can find my stuff through Google (click that and you’ll see what my Facebook profile looks like to Google). And those college students will be very happy when employers start contacting them with career opportunities (or better).

7. Is [the over-30] crowd sustainable? Is it worth it monetarily? Is it affecting the college participation? Based on my discussions with people, yes, although she does identify that not everyone gets Facebook. Enough do, though, to make it a big business concern.

I think Danah is onto something, though. Facebook has a few huge holes:

1. The app platform rocks cause it’s the first time we’ve been able to see what our friends have loaded on their machines but it sucks lately because the new kind of apps (the ones that aren’t stupid games or gifts) rely on studying your social graph. Those kinds of apps generally aren’t scalable, rarely work, and generally break if you have more than a couple hundred of friends.

2) Privacy in Facebook is frustrating. For me I just want to turn it all off. So I notice the walls. For my friends who are newbies and who don’t want to be public? The settings are too hard to figure out and the nomenclature is difficult to understand. What’s a “network” anyway? Who does that apply to? There aren’t any examples and you only learn about those by spending a bunch of time inside Facebook learning about how it works. Danah’s right to point out this stuff is way too hard and doesn’t “thrill.”

3) I want per-content privacy. Flickr gets this right by letting me click a button on photos and setting the privacy for that photo.

4) The limit on # of friends? Ridiculous. Get rid of that. Or let me pay for a “pro” account without any limits. Buzz Bruggeman has tens of thousands of people in Microsoft Outlook. It’s not impossible to get that many contacts. If Facebook really wants to be the rolodex for the modern age it needs to get rid of those limits. Everytime someone wants to add me now it makes me pissed off at Facebook. It’s pissing me off hour of every day now.

Anyway, thanks to Danah for getting a conversation going. Tomorrow’s Data Sharing Summit should be a good place to discuss all this stuff.

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Danah Confused By Facebook’s Fans
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