Facebook Timeline first reactions

I just turned on the new Facebook Timeline as per this howto guide.

I don’t know how much people will use it, but wow, they’ve made memory lane a whole lot richer of an experience. There’s tons of stuff to look back on that I wouldn’t have had thought to document myself.

Also, I was worried that some of the new ways you can share with friends in realtime wouldn’t be implemented effectively. But as soon as I clicked a Spotify “play” action, I was presented with this simple menu:

I was cautious because of Facebook’s previous missteps when sharing data from other services, but it looks like they really understand that people want to make decisions about what to share with whom, and they especially don’t want that decision made for them.

Third party sites and apps that posted things to the Facebook news feed before now were usually limited to just links, or if you had some serious savvy, perhaps some slightly richer media. But there were always rumors and anecdotal experiments which implied that Facebook treated data from third parties like second class citizens, not to be shown as prominently as content posted through Facebook’s own apps. This will clearly change with the new Open Graph and timeline – developers have way more control over how to import their media into Facebook, and can publish third party content to Facebook in a much richer way as well.

It’s kind of hard to explain, but here’s an example that comes to mind: I have a presence on several social networks, but I don’t entrust any of them with the stuff that’s most important to me: my blog and photos. That stuff is so important to me that I host it myself, even when some other companies’ services might provide me a nicer experience or a bigger network of my friends. To compensate for the interaction I lose by putting this stuff on my domain, I use RSS-based tools to post content from ZekeWeeks.com to Twitter, Facebook, and hopefully Google+ soon. But it’s always just a dumb link, perhaps with a thumbnail and an excerpt, whereas my Facebook subscribers would see a rich photo gallery or video if I had decided to put it all in Facebook instead.

Well, no more. With Open Graph, I can choose to exist outside Facebook without sacrificing the rich sharing inside Facebook. I can’t wait to see individuals and groups start taking advantage of this in a way that opens new possibilities to them, instead of locking them into a proprietary platform.

That said, I have no idea how this stuff is going to play out in reality. There are tons of question marks about it still. And Facebook has a huge amount of existing users who may have a trouble with a paradigm shift on an existing network that they’ve already conceptualized in a fixed way.


The Web is the best app store

Funny how things have come full circle:

I’ve always believed that the Web is the best platform out there: it’s open, free (as in free speech), and flexible. Apple did a great job with the original iPhone of making web apps work great on smartphones, and they’re continuing to do so. (MobileSafari is still by far the best mobile browser out there in terms of performance and support for modern HTML5 and CSS3 features.) But the best part is that web apps work on any device with a web browser, so software developers don’t have to maintain several different native apps for different operating systems.
Obviously there are still challenges for making web apps as functional as native ones – things like notifications, multitasking, and user interfaces are still not as straightforward as they are on native apps – but I’m convinced that they already work great for many uses, and will be more and more relevant in the future of mobile devices.

Growing Pains in the Web’s Social Revolution

I’ve observed these two things in last ten years of evolution in the “Social Web:”

  1. The Social Web has made huge changes to the way people express themselves and communicate in their daily lives, generally enhancing connections and making the world a lot smaller.
  2. That very same trend has also created more complexity from the sheer amount of information being shared through social platforms.

The actual nature of what we do in our lives hasn’t changed much; it’s just become so much more public and easily shared with the masses. In person, we can only have so much interaction, due to the limits of time and physical location.  But now technology has removed many of those barriers; we can now blast information to the masses regardless of our location or the availability of a captive, dedicated audience.

Personally, I find that these developments make it a lot harder parse all the information and isolate the stuff I find most relevant. Some of this is because people on the Social Web write for so many different audiences; one person might use Twitter to promote their business, ask people in their industry a question, post pictures of something random that happened, link to a popular meme, or just vent about what they’re feeling at the moment. (Or, God forbid, tell everyone what they had for breakfast.) To that person, it’s all self-expression of things they felt like sharing. But for the follower, it’s totally void of any personalization to deliver the content they personally care about the most. Some of my followers online are people in my industry, and some are friends or family. But they all get the entire stream, and are subject to reading whatever I decide is worth putting in their content stream.

Some of this problem can be solved by making more conscious decisions about the most relevant place to post different content online, or through the creation of more context- or audience-aware social platforms. But more than this, I think our society is just struggling to adapt to a very new kind of communication. As always, the young will find it easiest to adapt, so they will drive the changes before anyone else does.

I don’t know how things will turn out, but I’m pretty sure we’re going through a cultural revolution. A couple of decades from now, social interaction across the world will look very different, and I imagine that will also have serious implications in other spheres- especially world politics and economics.

Making sense of Facebook’s “Fixed” Privacy

Even if you don’t read any more of this post, if you use Facebook and haven’t adjusted your Facebook privacy settings since April 2010, please go do so right now – Facebook has made your profile data and photos public for all to see, including law enforcement, corporations and creepers like me. Also, you will be safest if you treat everything you post on Facebook from now on as 100% public, as if it were your personal website or blog.

For weeks, the interwebs have been all a-twitter in anger over Facebook’s recent (as well as endemic) privacy changes. The full history is far too long to discuss here, but suffice it to say that Facebook is drawing heat for changing user data and photo privacy from being “private by default” to being accessible to the entire Web.

I think it’s important to make a distinction about exactly why this a problem. Over the last decade, the Web has become more and more centered on social interactions. The vast majority of this has happened in a totally public context – blogs, Flickr, MySpace, Twitter and many other services have all been public, though some offered the ability for users to take their information private. These services never received such blowback because their users approached all of their posts as public material, and knew how to post accordingly. But Facebook, on the other hand, started out as a 100% private network where only those specifically allowed by the user could access any profile information. But as Facebook grew beyond its initial exclusivity to college students and then to regional networks, the network quietly removed much of the privacy that was its very defining characteristic. (Matt McKeon posted a perfect visual graph depicting the devolution of Facebook privacy over time which helps understand Facebook’s many changes to privacy settings.)

Facebook users can’t be expected to follow the site’s ever-changing privacy defaults and change their personal settings accordingly. While Facebook’s privacy changes are certainly not malicious in intent, they are nevertheless betraying its users’ trust. As a tech professional, I hold myself responsible for everything I post online, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to apply the same standard to every user of a site which has become a central aspect to the social interactions of  so many people. Facebook has a particularly dubious track record when it comes to their user data – check out this gem from an instant messaging conversation with CEO Mark Zuckerberg during the Facebook’s launch:

Zuckerberg: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuckerberg: Just ask.

Zuckerberg: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

Zuckerberg: People just submitted it.

Zuckerberg: I don’t know why.

Zuckerberg: They “trust me”

Zuckerberg: Dumb fucks.

(credit: Silicon Valley Insider)

And yesterday, the same Zuckerberg announced an upcoming overhaul and simplification of Facebook’s privacy settings for his precious dumb fucks users. It’s a good change for sure, and one that Facebook couldn’t afford not to make while they prepare to go IPO. I am particularly impressed that they’re adding the ability to completely opt out of the third party Facebook Platform. But it doesn’t solve the key issue of much user data being public by default, including their profile information and photos.

New Facebook Privacy Settings

Facebook's upcoming new privacy controls: making it easier for you to lock down the profile that should have been private in the first place.

From here out, Facebook has simply lost my trust. I feel as though they’ve taken my online social interactions hostage for ransom money. I feel like it’s important to have both public and private social networks, and I would definitely trust a responsible company enough to keep my information private. But Facebook? Fat chance. I’m treating everything I post there as if it were open to the whole world to see, and eagerly looking for ways to remove myself from their attempts to own my social interactions. I’m not breaking up with you, Facebook, but it’s pretty safe to say that you’ve changed our relationship status to “It’s complicated.”