Marshall Kirkpatrick has a post entitled Facebook's Zuckerberg Says The Age of Privacy is Over where he reviews some quotes by Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook, on their recent privacy changes and how these changes are reflecting evolving social norms. Below is an excerpt on Marshall's take on Mark Zuckerburg's comments

Facebook allows everyday people to share the minutiae of their daily lives with trusted friends and family, to easily distribute photos and videos - if you use it regularly you know how it has made a very real impact on families and social groups that used to communicate very infrequently. Accessible social networking technology changes communication between people in a way similar to if not as intensely as the introduction of the telephone and the printing press. It changes the fabric of peoples' lives together. 350 million people signed up for Facebook under the belief their information could be shared just between trusted friends. Now the company says that's old news, that people are changing. I don't believe it.

I think Facebook is just saying that because that's what it wants to be true.

There's lots of food for thought here. At first I wondered whether Facebook would have become the global phenomenon that is today where your friends, neighbors, coworkers and old school chums are sharing the minutiae of their lives with you if it had been public by default. Then I realized that sort of thinking doesn't matter since Facebook has 350 million users today so wondering how things could have turned out years ago with a different design isn't particularly interesting.  

What is interesting is considering why Facebook would want it to be true that many of their users think nothing of making their Facebook data public versus sharing it within their social network? The simple answer is Twitter.

Below is the Google Trends chart showing the difference in traffic between both sites.

In looking at the above chart, one might think it ludicrous that Facebook would have anything to fear from Twitter given that it has at least an order of magnitude more users. However compare the above chart to a comparison of news references and search queries for the phrases "search twitter" versus "search Facebook".

There are two things you learn from the above chart. The first is that the news media is a lot more interested in talking about search and Twitter instead of search and Facebook. This implies that even though Facebook has similar features to Twitter and ten times the user base, people don't talk about the power of being able to search Facebook status updates like they do about Twitter. The second is that there actually more interest from people actually doing search queries in searching content on Facebook than in searching Twitter content which is unsurprising since Facebook has a lot more users.

However the fact that status updates and other content on Facebook is private by default means Facebook cannot participate in this space even though it has the same kind of content that Twitter does but it is more valuable because they have lots more content and it is backed by real identities not anonymous users. Here's a quick list of the top of my head of the kinds of apps you can enable over Twitter's public stream of status updates that Facebook was locked out of until their privacy change

  1. What The Trend – Lists topics that are currently trending on Twitter and why. Often a quick way to find breaking news before it is reported by the mainstream media.
  2. TweetmemeThe top links that are currently being shared on Twitter. Another source of breaking news and cool content. It's like Digg and Reddit but without having to vote on content on some geeky "social news" site.
  3. Bitly.TVA place to watch the videos that are currently being shared on Twitter.
  4. Twittervision – A cool way to idle away the minutes by seeing what people all over the world are saying on Twirter.
  5. Google Real-Time search – See what Twitter users are saying about a particular search term in real-time as part of your search results
  6. Filtrbox – A tool that enables companies to see what their customers are saying about their products and brands on Twitter

All of these and more are the kinds of scenario Facebook could enable if their status update streams are public instead of private. People think Twitter is worth $1 billion because it is sitting on this well of real-time status updates and has created this ecosystem of services that live of its stream. However Facebook is sitting on ten times as much data yet could not be a part of this world because of their history of being a privacy centered social network. Being able to participate in the real-time search increases Facebook value and broadens its reach across the Web. With the privacy changes in place this will now be the case. Especially since 50 percent of their users have accepted the more public default privacy settings. Facebook can now participate in the same real-time ecosystem as Twitter and will bring more content that is easier to trust since it comes from people's real identities.

That said, I commend the people at Facebook for having the courage to evolve their product in the face of new market opportunities instead of being tied to their past. Lots of companies let themselves be ruled by fear and thus stick to the status quo for fear of ticking off their users which often leads to bored users. Kudos.  

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Monday, January 11, 2010 3:23:36 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
That's not about public vs. private. It's more about FB status updates being about bra color and mafia war updates. That is why nobody wants to search FB.
Kishor Gurtu
Monday, January 11, 2010 3:42:55 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Yes, they're innovating "courageously". However, some previous design and policy decisions must necessarily restrict future development. Publishing data previously provided under a reasonable understanding and expectation of privacy is unethical, plain and simple. Sure, security holes meant that the friend lists were almost as visible under the old situation as they are now, but the solution is to fix the security holes, not to make retroactive privacy changes.

Facebook could have made this change ethically if it either allowed indefinite activity under the old policy (*including* keeping everything private) without bugging the users, or provided a clear and comprehensible description of exactly what the changes entail and allow with a prominently-displayed "I no longer wish to participate, delete my account now" button. The latter is still sketchy, though, as its network effect is a pretty powerful implicit coercion factor.

The innovation may be praiseworthy, but its method of execution is reprehensible. "Sticking to the status quo", when it means abiding by previous privacy commitments, is not boring. It is professional.
Monday, January 11, 2010 4:00:51 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Great analysis. Facebook is doing an about face because while they once defined the party, the party has moved.

It's kind of cyclical, though. Remember the early photo sharing sites prior to Facebook and Youtube. Some defined themselves by their privacy, others defined themselves by their community. For a while, it looked like the privacy camp had a lot going for it, but then the surge of new digital cameras and voyeurs/exhibitionists online pushed the "open by default" sites way ahead. The "private only" sites were left playing catch-up. Then Facebook came and made them all irrelevant.

I'm sure the keen business analysts at Facebook understand this phenomenon and have taken the lessons of the early 2000's to heart.

By the way, are you sure the story is that 50% of users have accepted the new defaults? The real story would seem to be that 50% of users *haven't*. That's a large fraction of the community to take action and go against the officially sanctioned settings. Getting 50% of your members to do anything is hard.
Monday, January 11, 2010 4:10:13 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Based on what I see in my FB news feed, some subset of FB users regard FB and Twitter as the same thing and crosspost to both twitter and their FB status, so for them the distinction is moot.

(BTW, you're missing a legend on the 1st chart, though I figured it out from context)
Monday, January 11, 2010 6:43:16 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
You've done a good job of outlining why Facebook would want to open up their data. However, I think debate right now is about the way they did it.

First, unlike twitter, they are changing an existing social contract they had with their users. Second, their permission system is arguably over complicated and it does seem to be intentional so unsuspecting/non-techy users are tricked into making their data public.

Monday, January 11, 2010 11:13:46 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I don't believe that 50% of facebook users <b>really accepted</b> the new terms.

1) For 50% to have rejected them and thus gone to some extra effort says a <b>lot about the opposition level</b>. There are always those who don't look too closely, I'm guessing that many of those in the "acceptance" camp are those.

2) If you said (do it later) the horrible monsters who designed it then convert you to the new way. Talk about doing <b>evil</b>. The logical approach is to keep it as was and ask you again next time!!

Understandably they want to make money. Unfortunately they <b>lack a moral compass</b>.
Mike Gale
Sunday, January 17, 2010 4:01:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
great job :D:D:D
Monday, January 18, 2010 8:30:53 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
The moral of the story is 'never give all your [true information] to a 3rd party unless what it gives you in exchange is deemed to be worth it by you'.

Now since FB has your data, the best option is to obfuscate it enough to not disturb your network of friends but not give FB enough to create a true profile.
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