On Feeds and Assimilation

By now, most users of the social networking website facebook.com know about the radical changes to the layout and design of the site. Seemingly overnight, Facebook introduced “feeds” which post updates on your friends’ activities on the social networking site to your homepage, and organizes them by date. These include comments, photos, events, profile changes and relationship changes. For example, I know that many of my friends are joining the group promoting Talk Like A Pirate Day.

User reaction

This change has created instant opposition by many users of the site, generally on grounds of being “stalkerish” and “too much information.” These changes have given people a wake up call, so to speak, that the information on their profiles IS ACCESSIBLE BY ANYONE. That’s the way it has been. Facebook provides privacy options, and these people who are complaining about the new information are coming to the realization that they might not want to share everything about themselves on the internet. Then again, there are a growing number of people that don’t care what other people know about them.

People know I went to Dragon*Con, and that I have a girlfriend. So? People know that I wrote on someone else’s wall. The alarmists should step back and ask who really cares. Those particular notices should be eliminated because they’re not relevant. If I post a blog entry, however, I want all my friends to read it; I want them to be notified, because that’s the nature of blogging. If I put something on Facebook, other people are going to read it. If you’re not comfortable with people you know knowing something about you, then DO NOT POST IT ONLINE. It’s your own fault for sharing the information; Facebook is just the messenger.

What is privacy?

I do see sharing information online becoming more acceptable, though. The whole idea of “privacy” has drastically changed over the past ten or so years. We’ve become more comfortable with our friends knowing more about us; this is simply another indicator of that. A very obvious one, too. As in, you have to be pretty dense to not realize that Facebook, MySpace and other social networking websites are changing the way people interact. I wouldn’t know several very good friends if it weren’t for Facebook. I also wouldn’t know some old friends from middle and elementary school right now. There are probably downsides that I don’t realize, too. Like most things in life, it’s a double-edged sword. Why shouldn’t your friends know just as much about you as the CIA does? If you really want to advocate privacy, support the Electronic Frontier Foundation instead of attacking Facebook or MySpace.

Sounds like a good topic for a master’s paper… probably in a degree field such as Public Policy or History of Technology in Society. Analyze the effect of social networking websites in offline social networks; see how it changes the way people interact. Do they spend more time? How large are the offline social networks as compared to before, and how strong are the ties now, compared to before? Can one really be considered as “better” than the other? Are people who use these networks smarter and more successful than those who don’t?

What next?

Facebook is here to stay, and the information-sharing that people are reacting to is here to stay. If Facebook removes or cripples it, due to popular demand, then it will appear somewhere else, and it will eventually become accepted. Facebook simply used their excellent design skills to clearly present the information. I’d rather have it on Facebook than MySpace, as MySpace is more prone to hacking, and has poorer layout and privacy options than Facebook. However, this will be “web2.0” and “cool” the next place it appears. Beyond that… is anyone’s guess. These websites will continue to evolve. Social interaction will continue to move online.

You will be assimilated. You will WANT to be assimilated, so that your cultural distinction can be added to our own. Resistance is futile. Welcome to the internet.

Andrew Guyton

Leave a Reply