[Air-l] Facebook protests
nbaym at ku.edu
Thu Sep 7 07:02:24 PDT 2006
>While we might call users naive for not understanding how 'privacy'
>works on the internet, we might also call the designers behind Facebook
>naive for not understanding how privacy works in the social world.
This raises a point for me that I have been thinking about a lot in
the last several months as another social networking site where I
spend time (last.fm) introduced some fairly large changes that were
done, apparently, with no systematic understanding of how its users
use the site, what they do and don't like, etc. (in one thread, one
of their developers described their process of studying their
million+ users as reading the emails they get, reading the forums,
and imagining themselves as new users, all methods which make the
social scientist in me SCREAM for better data on which to make
decisions). It's not a question of privacy in this case, and though
some last.fm users are unhappy, they have not been crying out in
protest to the same extent that facebook users seem to be, but I find
my own interest in the site lessened, and see the amount of
interesting peer-activity on the site dropping since the changes.
What I find interesting, and frankly rather upsetting, and cannot yet
fully articulate (help fellow listers!) is that we (speaking here as
a user) get invested in these sites. We use them to build identities,
to create connections, to network, for whatever purposes. We spend a
lot of time there and we get invested through time, social
connections, and affect. And then the developers get a new idea and
suddenly we all have to live with it or leave. To use the front lawn
metaphor, it's as though they decide that actually the streets
shouldn't be on a grid pattern, they should all be cul-de-sacs and if
you didn't want to live on a cul-de-sac, well, move to a new town.
Who were you to think you had any say in city planning?
As these sites become more and more integral to everyday experience,
it seems the developers have more and more of an obligation to
understand and their users, and to incorporate their concerns into
the design before making big changes, and to give people options for
managing problematic elements of the changes they decide to make
anyhow (in the facebook case, turning off the minifeed for your own
There seems to be a real difference between the ethical and practical
obligations to users in these "web2" sites and the way that
businesses have related to their customers in the past. As I say,
this is not something I've worked through, but design and
development, customer service, public relations, and community
relations all seem to merge in new ways.
Does anyone have more thought-through ways to think about what I'm
trying to get at here?
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