Facebook this morning released a system of new privacy controls for user profiles. These controls allow you to create groups or lists of friends. You can then apply very specific privacy rules to each of these lists or even one particular friend.
This is a huge step forward in my opinion and one that I have been waiting for Facebook to take. The simple reason is that as open and public as I make my life some things don’t always need to be broadcast to everybody on the planet. Easy example, does my boss need to know what music I listen to or what my religious or even sexual preference is? Depending on how comfortable I am with my boss and co-workers I may not want them knowing that sort of information. Thus all I have to do is place those co-workers into a group, call it “Business”, and set up privacy controls for that group.
Okay, so what happens when a co-worker becomes a closer friend, well you can place one person into multiple groups. This person then has the most lenient privacy controls directed at them according to their group placing. That sounds really complex but it actually isn’t. I have a friend John, John started out in the “Business” group, but we have hung out several times and I would consider him now a close friend, so I place John in my “Close Friends” group. John will be able to see whatever a “Business” and a “Close Friend” can see.
The groups also allow you to message that whole group all at once. So for instance you want to tell all your close friends, that you have a new phone number. Message all members of “Close Friends” and bam, everyone knows you changed your phone number. This is much simpler than just about every other personal e-mail system on the planet in terms of this sort of mass e-mail. No having to remember who exactly you want to contact just select the group of people who you do wish to contact and write the message.
Privacy is still the real killer of social networks, the coolness factor of being involved in something special isn’t as important as the ability to present an image that the rest of the world doesn’t know about. When that ability goes away and your supposed private image displayed online becomes something that the general public can access, people leave. As public as I make my life I make sure that everything that goes online that I post or my friends post about me is something that I would be comfortable claiming as my own. There are many things that I don’t talk about online because I don’t feel comfortable with the rest of the world talking about it. That is one reason why this blog tries to be more intellectual as opposed to personal. This one change easily makes Facebook something that I now feel comfortable having all of my contacts listed inside of Facebook.
I am really excited about this change, and I hope it means that Facebook will actually be here to stay for some time.