A few thoughts on Facebook

What with all the hoo-ha around Facebook’s flotation (for what it’s worth, $100bn – WHAT!? did the last dotcom bubble teach anyone anything? This is a fairly good article on the subject: Facebook IPO – do not buy), I thought I’d share a few thoughts I’ve been having around Facebook. Specifically Facebook’s headlong rush into forcing their Open Graph and concept of ‘frictionless sharing’ on everyone. I’m aware these aren’t original thoughts, and I’m arriving slightly late to the party but I think it’s a point that needs reiterating. Facebook’s idea of “frictionless” sharing flies in the face of how the internet works, and how I think it should continue to work.

Facebook is ruining sharing

Facebook’s drive to force everyone to operate within the Facebook ecosystem is irritating beyond words, Molly Wood’s excellent article articulates this far better than I ever could: “How Facebook is ruining sharing“. Worryingly a number of high-profile content producers/platforms have already embraced this new way of operating, namely the Guardian, The Independent and Spotify. I’m sure that they will all claim that this offers a more integrated, seamless experience for users but in reality I’m not so sure this is the case. It smacks of forcing proprietary solutions on people and any solution that sets out to reduce choice and prescribe things to users is a bad thing in my book. Why should I have to use the Guardian Facebook app to read a story if a friend has shared a Guardian link within Facebook? Surely the choice should be up to me? The fact that Facebook is taking this choice away from users can only be a bad thing and hopefully they’ll rethink, unfortunately I don’t think this is likely.

Follow the money

The more they (Facebook) can lock users into Facebook, forcing them to stay “within” Facebook for longer and longer periods of time whilst being able to gather even more data on their user’s activities (what you read, what you listen to, etc etc) means that Facebook becomes even more attractive to advertisers. Speaking as someone who runs fairly frequent ad campaigns on Facebook I can say that the way in which you can segment who sees your ads on Facebook is very attractive/useful/effective and if they can make this even more nuanced then Facebook will become even more attractive to advertisers – and given that the vast majority of Facebook’s income comes from selling advertising this is surely the way they will look to move.

Remember; if the product is free, then you are the product

Advantages?

Of course there are those that argue this hugely integrated concept can only be a good thing, that it takes the thought out of sharing and just makes it a default part of everyone’s online experience i.e. that all your activity will eventually be shared, on Facebook, regardless of where you are operating online. I couldn’t disagree more, much like the information you put on Facebook what you share should be a conscious decision, it shouldn’t be default, that is a dangerous move for anyone who cares about controlling their digital footprint (as I think everyone should). Of course there will then be the argument, as there is for ID cards and CCTV, that if you aren’t doing anything ‘wrong’ then you have nothing to worry about, but this fundamentally misses the point – if I don’t want to share with everyone on Facebook that I’ve just read an article about Russia and China vetoing a resolution on Syria, or a review of Borgen, or listened to 300 David Bowie songs back-to-back then that should be my choice, I shouldn’t have to go out of my way to ensure that this isn’t shared.

Further reading

There are (of course!) lots of excellent articles on this subject if it’s something you’d like to read up on. I’d recommend:

Why Facebook’s Seamless Sharing is Wrong
Facebook Hasn’t Ruined Sharing, It’s Just Re-Defined It
Is Facebook ruining sharing?
Facebook: Ruining or Evolving Online Sharing?
The Pros & Cons of Frictionless Sharing

P.s.

One aspect of this entire endeavour that I didn’t really touch upon was the issue of privacy, if you start using these sorts of services then Facebook’s fairly complex way of setting your privacy controls may come back to bite you, as demonstrated quite succinctly here “Luluvise’s date-rating site shows where your Facebook data can end up“. Whilst that article concerns itself with an app that ‘adds functionality’ rather than sharing as such, it doesn’t take anything approaching a leap of imagination for this to have wider and more serious implications via “content sharing” apps too. To ensure that your data doesn’t get shared with all and sundry thanks to a ‘friend’s’ perchant for apps you’ll need to dig into the ‘Apps’ section of the ‘Privacy Settings’ in your Facebook account.

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