Facebook makes another impressive step forward – control is the goal

By October 7, 2010Facebook

If you have been anywhere near a computer in the last twenty four hours you have probably caught some of the news that Facebook announced yesterday.  It seems to me they have made another impressive step forward – on the one hand by addressing key gripes about the service and on the other by extending their reach into the non-Facebook web.

Zuckerberg outlined the changes in a post yesterday titled Giving You More Control and listed the three most important as:

  • New groups feature
  • Ability to export data
  • Dashboard showing how other sites use your data

To start with I want to dwell on the title of Zuckerberg’s post for a second.  If you read the work of social scientists like danah boyd on popular perceptions of social media it becomes clear that the biggest source of discomfort and fear is a loss of control, and the perception is more important than the reality.  Before social networks we controlled our personal data tightly and that felt comfortable, for many the risk that some personal data could end up somewhere embarrassing (e.g. with their boss or their mum) is enough to limit their use of Facebook, or even stop them using it altogether.  Zuckerberg is hitting straight at this issue both with the title of his post and the feature changes.

The idea of groups is to make it easy to control who your information is shared with.

The ability to export data puts the control back in your hands – you own it and for the first time can take it away and close your account.

The dashboard showing how other sites use your data allows you to see and keep control of where your personal stuff might turn up.

Facebook has an impressive track record of innovation – not everything has been successful, but most of it has, and yesterday’s announcements shows that their increased scale isn’t slowing them down.

All of that good stuff said, I still can’t get the site to work how I would like it to.  I’ve written before about how all the professionally oriented content I share on Facebook is not that interesting to most of my non-work friends (to say the least…) and I was hoping to be able to create a group of my professional friends and have my status updates only go out to that group by default.  Unless I’ve missed something that still isn’t an option.  Having dug into it some more I think I could make a custom list of friends that my status updates go out to, which I will push ahead and do, but it would nice to have a group that has an identity all of its own.

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