Okay today the blogosphere is buzzing with incriminations against the new Facebook design. Just in case anybody out there doesn’t use Facebook, Facebook is one of several social-networking sites. However it has one key feature that I was hoping to discuss at some point in greater and detail and hopefully still will, that you have to use a college or one of several dozen companies internal e-mail address. This is a basic insurance policy to keep the age limit of Facebook within a reasonable bounds. The nice thing is that even if you leave the school and lose access to that school e-mail account you can have your contact e-mail be your personal e-mail that you use day to day. I have always liked Facebook’s user interface and their basic design especially considering the general alternative, MySpace. Every time I use MySpace, I cringe and want to get out as fast as possible from their servers. However MySpace does have several things going for it, sheer size and multiple tools and levels of profiles. Facebook is trying to cut the advantages that MySpace has as college starts up for a new year and as students make more and new friends through school. Facebook on Tuesday rolled out two important changes that have generated accolades and controversy from everybody and anybody, well know you get to hear my two cents.
First of all, what did Facebook roll out by way of changes? Facebook decided to generate two things News Feeds and Mini-Feed. These two things track the changes that occur to your personal profile and those of your friends. The News Feeds track all of your friends changes in their profiles, when they write on a wall, when their relationship status changes, when they add friends, delete friends, join a group, or leave a group. It aggregates all the information from your friends in one easy spot, allowing you to glance and see what is going on quickly and easily. The Mini-Feeds are almost the same thing except it aggregates the information from one person’s profile and is displayed on their profile page. The other changes were cosmetic as Facebook rearranged the Profile and Home pages to better accommodate these changes.
The users of Facebook have spoken and it seems quite clearly that they don’t like the changes occurring. A great many people fear that this smacks of people being able to stalk you easily and quickly, other people don’t like the design change (though far fewer in number, only geeks tend to complain about a websites design unless it is absolutely atrocious and can’t be used). I normally would tend to agree with anybody saying “It takes away our privacy”, I am a firm believer in the idea that our lives should be ours and no one should be able to sit at a computer and discover where are at all hours of the day or find out everything about us through a profile page. However in this the complainers have missed a very big idea – All information posted is information you choose to make available online. Did you get that, it is such a simple idea it amazes me how people forget it, there will always be a way of organizing information and making it easier to sort through so you don’t have to physically do the searching yourself, but honestly if you are going to be stalking someone, you would just go to their profile page and reload it every so often and read the information the old fashioned way. If you know someone is stalking you, Facebook has a privacy level that you can completely not allow that person to view you ever, what groups you are part of, your profile won’t even register in a global search of Facebook, or you can also allow that person access to only a limited portion of your profile. This is something that is very easy to do and takes a minimal amount of effort.
If you choose to not display your status updates (as a great many people already do) no one will know where you are. I find already more and more how easily I could be tracked as to where I am and what I am doing. I once read a funny article of reasons to date a geek – one of them was because you will always know where s/he is at all times. Geeks have a natural affinity to use all those social networking tools to their fullest extent. We post and tag photos on Flickr, telling people “Hey I was at this event and these are some of the people that I know”, we are either at a live IM connection or we have an away message displaying where we can be found, we have a cell phone (some even have a Blackberry), we post on a blog many times telling readers where we are for that particular week or what happened at work or what our vacation plans are, and on and on. In short, if someone wanted to stalk me, it wouldn’t be a problem finding out where I was, or what I did normally on a weekday or weekend, I choose to put this information online, I understand how much of my life is online and what it does represent and what can be discovered about me from a simple Google search or more. I therefore choose to accept the risks of my personal data being displayed so openly.
Facebook still has security in place, this doesn’t take away any information that couldn’t easily have been gathered by looking at someone’s profile, and as a measure of last resort if you don’t want something showing up on the two Feeds, hit the “X” button beside the action you wish to remove and poof it vanishes from the News feeds and from your Mini-Feeds, however the action still occurred and can still be seen by everybody who has full access to your profile (and your friend’s profile if it involves someone else).
Geek Note – There were already tools that existed that would have allowed someone to compile a feed of changes occurring in your profile, these were not endorsed by Facebook but did exist. Also there are companies that exist to provide RSS feeds to sites that don’t have them yet, again the tools for this data manipulation already existed, Facebook merely provides it built into their API. Of course, Greasemonkey provides the ability to manipulate data quickly and easily into just about any form that you wish to shove it into. (Side Note – Greasemonkey is ridiculously awesome at manipulating the data of a web page and even changing the output and design of a web page that you don’t like.) I have been wishing for a tool like this be created especially after Facebook released their API, that one of the designs would be to actually be able to gather this data and form an automatic notification process either by RSS or e-mail, although RSS makes much more sense. However as far as I could tell from the general message boards and forums no one was heading in this direction, and I felt I did not have the necessary coding skills to pull this off and did not know enough people really interested in this to make it happen.
Civil Liberties Note – For those genuinely concerned about how much information is displayed on the web, here is a search engine that doesn’t log your searches, and here is an article to find out how to remove yourself from the people searches that populate the Internet.
Note To Self – Lack of initiative dooms a project before it even starts.