[Air-l] Facebook protests

Fred Stutzman fred at metalab.unc.edu
Thu Sep 7 10:32:26 PDT 2006

I've written some on the topic, concentrating on how these moves broke the 
cultural norms of the environment.

# Facebook's shaky standpoint. Facebook takes the stand that feeds 
introduce nothing "new". Unfortunately, this logic fails because 
information disclosure is both quantitative and qualitative. Facebook (sort 
of) gets to claim there is quantitatively no more information being shared 
(more on this later). Qualitatively, the difference is huge. Information 
disclosure is multidimensional. Each day, when you put on your clothes, you 
have assumptions that a certain audience will see you in these clothes. 
Imagine if every day when you got dressed, everyone saw what you were 
wearing - wouldn't you agree that is vastly different? And wouldn't it make 
you feel a little weird? Now multiply this by every information facet 
shared in the Facebook. Perhaps now the problem makes more sense.

# On the nature of friendship in the Facebook. My research has shown that 
facebook users average hundreds of friends. This means that the nature of 
friendship is different and culturally unique in the Facebook. Friendship 
in the Facebook is cultural currency - I link to you and you link to me. 
Implicit in this is a one-time exchange of social capital, nothing more. 
However, friendship is an absolutely core element of the service - and with 
this change, the nature of friendship in the service, and everything that 
goes along with it, changes. From now on, when you friend someone, you're 
agreeing to let them have a feed of everything you do - this is a huge 
difference from the previous notion of friendship, which users were quite 
comfortable with.

# On how users explore each other. The common argument for feeds is that 
"the information is out there anyway." So it stands, if you wanted to, you 
could replicate the functionality of feeds by checking your friend's 
profiles every day. This argument fails because this is not how Facebook 
users use the service. Facebook users log in to check their messages, 
respond to pokes, use profiles as "white pages", coordinate events - they 
aren't logging in to surf profiles endlessly (sure, they do this when they 
have an exam the next day, but it isn't the normal activity). Why is this? 
Well, put simply, you know your friends. And the people you've friended 
that aren't really your friends - sure, you'll check them out from time to 
time, but that's not how the site is used. In essence, profiles are just a 
small part of the site.

Users understand this. When they update their profile, they are updating it 
for a micro-audience of a subset of their friends. They aren't expecting 
everyone they know to see (or care) about every last minute change in their 
life. People have a mental model of disclosure, and this change breaks that 
mental model. Even though "nothing is different", it is clear that 
something absolutely is different. The privacy of being average is gone.

If interested, more at: 


On Thu, 7 Sep 2006, Nicole Ellison wrote:

> Hi Nancy, I'm not sure this qualifies as "more thought out" but I think 
> you've on to something. Yesterday my colleague Cliff Lampe and I spoke 
> with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal 
> (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB115759058710755893.html?mod=technology_main 
> _promo_left) and this was a slant to the story they wrote: the fact that 
> facebook users were upset not only about the feature itself, but also the 
> fact that it seemed to be implemented without any feedback from users. 
> Which seems to be the case, as this quote from the article suggests: "Ms. 
> Deitch said Facebook's feedback from users comes in the form of emails to 
> its customer-service email address, which the company's 
> product-development team reviews weekly. But the company typically 
> doesn't solicit feedback by showing features to users before launching 
> them." Because these social network sites are built on user-supplied 
> content, users feel more ownership over the site as a whole (compared to, 
> say, a news portal or e-commerce site). It may be that the reaction to 
> this change might prompt deeper, better user research on the part of 
> these sites (which I agree is needed). Following up on the earlier 
> conversation: My sense from speaking with students is that they dislike 
> the feature not because it is pulling already available information, but 
> because it is displaying profile changes that otherwise would be hard to 
> identify. If I have 150 friends on the site, I won't typically notice 
> when someone de-friends me. But this feature puts this info in my face, 
> so to speak.  As the old saying goes: there are some things better left 
> unsaid. This feature is articulating information we don't necessarily 
> want to hear.
> N.
>  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
> Nicole Ellison, PhD
> Dept. of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media
> Michigan State University
> nellison at msu.edu
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Fred Stutzman
AIM: chimprawk

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