Monday, May 17, 2010

Facebook and (In-Group vs. Facebook).

There is always Internet indignation when the people at Facebook change up Facebook's privacy settings, and rightfully so. Farhad Manjoo has a nice writeup over at Slate. (And I just noticed, not to be outdone, there's one at Salon too, written by Mary Elizabeth Williams. And a good, longer article at TidBITs by Rich Mogull that includes thoughts on what to do about it all. As an aside, is that an awesome name or what?) And I meant to include this piece by danah boyd.

He's right that we've seen this before, but I'd add that this is a case of in-group versus out-group, where Facebook users feel they are being taken advantage of by an external agent, the people who run Facebook. It's a community issue.

People on Facebook are parts of various communities. The people who run Facebook are not a part of the majority of those communities, but seek to profit from them. Granted the people at Facebook have bills to pay for the servers and such, but there are limits. When external agents or communities seek to benefit from another community, that community (i.e., its members) feel attacked and threatened (to some extent). They react, defending their community from outsiders. We've seen this play out online before. In Second Life, there are always people who complain about "the Lindens" and how they are ruining Second Life. In EverQuest II, players complain if their favorite character type is weakened.

Facebook communities (of friends, families, different groups) make content on Facebook. They do this with posts, likes, photos, and groups. This community material is just that, community material -- it is made by and belongs to the community. When another community (the people who run Facebook) come in and use that material, or give it to others (in the digital way, they allow others to see it), this is something we instinctively react against.

As long as the people at Facebook feel they are making profit and not losing users, nothing will change. If they can increase profits, they will. Users may object, and the people at Facebook may be terrible at interfaces (or may be good at intentionally making bad interfaces so most information becomes public and they can profit from it), but until people vote with their feet or stop posting information (and perhaps actively delete it), I don't see that anything will change.