In a previous post I discussed the reasons why Facebook couldn’t win the real time search war with Twitter. Namely because of the advantage Twitter has with mobile clients. Facebook has come along in leaps and bounds since then, with the release of the Facebook 3.0 app for the iPhone a particularly strong offering. Even my platform of choice, Windows Mobile has a perfectly functional, albeit poor looking Facebook app available.
The one area I didn’t cover in my previous post, was perhaps the most critical factor to Facebook competing with Twitter in the real time search market. Facebook as a platform has since it’s inception, been an inherently closed social network. People need to be part of your network before they can gain access to your information, either by being by being a friend directly, or belonging to your extended network should you have chosen to allow “friends of friends” get access to your information.
Twitter on the other hand, is an open platform by default. Sure users can opt to restrict access to their tweets, but for the most part, this is counter to the workings of Twitter. If people can’t find you by seeing you participate in conversations with others, you don’t exist to them. Which limits your “Twitter experience” considerably.
As a result, Twitter generates considerable amounts of publicly searchable information every second. Whereas Facebook is stuck with it’s data being in silos around each individual that are inaccessible to the general public. In order to make this information available to search engines to provide meaningful results (and more importantly generate revenues from Bing/Google in the process) it is *vital* for Facebook to change from a closed social networking platform. To a more open one, at least in regards to peoples wall posts (that which provides the best real time data).
This week Facebook offered it’s users what they called a ‘Transition tool’ to manage the transition to the new structure of the privacy settings. The tool itself is illustrated below by a screenshot taken by @beaney.
Now what this transition tool offered was the new default options for each setting for Facebook on the left, and a column of radio buttons on the right to allow you to select to keep your old settings if it was different from the new default. Instead of allowing users to select from all the privacy levels for each option, they only permitted the default (for the primary options this was the most permissive ‘everyone’ option) or the existing setting. Nothing in between.
Surely Facebook could have offered drop down boxes as with their normal privacy options menu, and simply listed the previously used setting next to each option and allowed the users freedom of choice. But no, this is a deceptive move on Facebooks behalf to scam its users into opening up their data so that Bing and Google can mine it and pay Facebook for the privilege.
Coinciding with this change in privacy settings for Facebook was an announcement not long ago that Facebook and Microsoft had ‘inked a deal’ to index all of Facebook users data. Obviously it is in Facebook’s financial interests to push users into opening up their status updates, but doing so in such a deceptive way will only result in users over-sharing and exposing themselves to risks unknowingly such as having their payoffs cut off when insurers see pictures of them on Facebook ‘smiling’. I expect Facebook’s response to such incidents as being “well the user opted in to up opening their profile” which may be true, but is unscrupulous and not the sort of behavior I would expect from the company.
You can do better Mark Zuckerberg. You evangelise the user experience with Facebook, but you have let your users down with this one.