The last week has been full of news about Facebook's new moves. Expanded product offerings, rampant privacy violations and the like. The big question is whether Facebook can get away with statements like this:
"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people," Zuckerberg said at a technology awards show in January. "That social norm is just something that has evolved." (via The LA Times)
FALSE. Objectively. Some people are comfortable, but many / most are not. The question is, can Facebook dictate that norm to the web by making business-first decisions now, worrying about the consequences after? Increasingly I believe the answer is yes.
I hear many people say that Facebook is destined to go the way of MySpace, and be superseded by the next big thing in social networking. But I don't believe that anymore. There was Lycos and Altavista and the crew, and then Google came along and people thought the next thing would be along soon. Even in the last few years, there were the people who predicted that Bing or Cuil, or Powerset, or Wolfram or whatever would be the next big thing. But no one's stealing Google's market share on search (although Bing is doing ok…). Google has become a standard, and it will be very hard to shake.
Well, I think Facebook is moving towards that same position. Facebook's idea this past week has been to explode its walls. Facebook wants to be the social graph that powers the web. There will still be new, cool sites for users to get involved in, but why re-invent the wheel? Facebook will allow these sites to slice off a part of the Facebook graph for their users and populate it with their own content. All the while, of course, Facebook is keeping track, expanding its own graph, making a mint. Facebook knows things are going this way, and so this week they slapped down their trump card and said "just you try and stop us!"
We've seen a pretty big backlash in internet terms, but nothing strong enough to lead to anything but minor concessions on Facebook's part. The only things that will stop them at this point might be action from Congress or the courts. At least a few folks in Washington seem to be paying attention.
In the meantime, I think the kind of protest, resistance we're seeing is useful and necessary. I'll be interested to see if Facebook really takes notice. I'm guessing no. So for most of us, our real decision is whether to accept a public life with Facebook, or log off for good. As for me, I'm not thinking of logging off yet, but only because I always assume information about me is public and widely shared without my knowledge. I decided long ago not to put anything on Facebook (or elsewhere) that I wouldn't want to share with the world. But that's me. Facebook allows me to manage my privacy the way I'd like by default. But it should do the same for others too, rather than forcing them into potentially dangerous and uncomfortable choices.