FACEBOOK: FROM DISCREET SOCIAL NETWORK TO VOYEUR CENTRAL
Facebook's changes to the way it deals with privacy and sharing settings represent a major shift in the type of social networking Facebook is encouraging its users to engage in.
The company has long prided itself on giving users the ability to control who sees what you share on its network and even went so far as to create a privacy regime that many found overly complicated.
The message from Facebook has always been clear: Facebook is about connecting you to the people you already know. Facilitating the type of digital voyeurism that is readily visible on sites like MySpace, Twitter and YouTube was not the intent of Mark Zuckerberg and crew.
Given that, it was no surprise that Facebook's original privacy regime, by default, encouraged the sharing of content amongst 'friends' and discouraged the sharing of content publicly. Facebook was the perfect example of a social network essentially closed to the outside world, a walled garden with a high fence.
But that is no more. Facebook's new privacy and sharing settings are taking the social network in a new direction. While they do offer users greater 'control' over their Facebook privacy, as our own Meghan Keane put it: "the new shift is meant to encourage Facebook users to share more". To that end, the new privacy regime will for the first time enable users to share their content with the entire internet at large.
Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb has a good discussion on the possible reasons for this and also notes that this is quite a diversion from Facebook's past philosophy about the nature of its social network. Whether Facebook is trying to be Twitter, boost its opportunities with advertisers or something else, it's hard to ignore this fact.
Now Facebook has been here before. Every time it makes a major change, everyone jumps on the 'this is going to be the demise of Facebook' bandwagon. I've certainly jumped on board myself in the past. The bottom line is that Facebook management has always taken the path that it believes is right, regardless of what users thought at the time. It has made some mistakes and been forced to backtrack but by in large you can't look at Facebook's continued monster growth and argue that the company has made a disastrous decision.
But there's always a first time for everything. By changing a core part of its philosophy, Facebook is taking perhaps its biggest risk ever. We're talking about the world's largest social network here. One that got to the top, in part, because it focused on connecting people to people they already knew while other social networks were creating the virtual equivalent of the town circus. By opening up and joining the fray, Facebook could become digital voyeur central.
Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.