damned if you do (the facebook dilemma)

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I have had very mixed feelings about the latest changes to facebook. privacy watchdogs and industry sages rained down fire on the company’s plans to share user data with “select business partners.” [breaking news: facebook has called for an all hands meeting tomorrow (5/13) to discuss the company's 'overall privacy strategy.']

I realized why I was torn. making all my information available to anyone? so not good. making my information available to businesses that want to sell me stuff in order to save us both time? golden. don’t get me wrong. I still think facebook’s privacy shenanigans stink, and I worry about the potential for abuse with younger consumers. but I think the instant personalization concept is an enormous win for businesses and consumers.

personal data makes marketing better

I have written about marketing convergence – the intersection of data and sales proposition to create an inexorable right place, right time nexus – before. “you might like” functionality on blip.fm got me out to see a great band that I had never heard of. even better -  I checked in on foursquare and experienced offer nirvana. the connection that time was forged by a location-based service and a venue smart enough to recognize the opportunity.

collaborative filtering is nothing new. that’s what powers amazon’s recommendations system (“people who bought this also bought”) and was the driver behind the blip.fm tickler for trampled by turtles. what got me so excited about the foursquare episode was that it took collaborative filtering the next step, to a collaboration of friends. a recommendation from someone you know (and trust, presumably) is worth more than a recommendation from a stranger.

yes, the new features in facebook (and the new faebook features web-wide) are the latest in a trend toward a more commercially friendly (aka monetized) service. as I have noted before, however, the increase in the amount of user information accessible to various parties was not specifically designed for the new commercial focus. rather, it was a result of facebook’s move to monetize though search deals with google and bing.  twitter had just closed a similar deal, making its kajillion tiny messages into searchable social objects. facebook had a problem, however. twitter had never said any of its content was private. to an extent, it had always been searchable. facebook, on the other hand, was a walled city. in order to have something to sell, facebook needed to tear down those walls.

there’s a chart over on matt mckeon’s site that shows the accelerating disassembling of facebook’s privacy policies. the graphic is really well done, and the inexorable increase in the availability of our personal data reminded me of that global map in wargames. (the prolifereation of facebook haters shows a similar pattern!)

cup half full

amid the firestorm that followed the facebook announcements were a few grudgingly positive articles about instant personalization like this one at readwiteweb.com. author sarah perez takes the zuckerberg web for a spin and says blushingly, it feels right.” she hastily qualifies the statement,

“… But it’s oh so wrong, isn’t it? By giving into Facebook’s vision for the Web, we’re ceding control of our data, our likes, our interests, our “social graph” (a.k.a who we know, who we friend) – everything – to one company. Historically, one very, very closed company. We’re definitely worried about the implications of that. You should be too.

But in the meantime, like that calorie-rich dessert we know we shouldn’t eat, we’re sampling Facebook’s Web and secretly savoring its deliciousness. Why does everything that’s so wrong have to feel so good?”

online identity privacy strategy facebookpete cashmore at mashable has an interesting take on the issue, claiming that “no one can stop facebook because no one understands facebook.” he elaborates by asking “Have the nuances of online privacy become so complex that they’re beyond the comprehension of mere mortals?” in other words, this ain’t your grandad’s personal data universe, so stop acting like you’re seeing it on a 12 inch black and white rca.

the perez piece references another RWW post where mike melanson asks, “has anyone considered the up side to any of these changes?” he cites the “knee-jerk reaction” to the news, which resulted in articles like this one on gigaom: “your mom’s guide to those facebook changes and how to block them.” most articles critical of the new features seem less concerned with the functionality and potential for abuse than the thought that joe average user would get all freaked out if he arrives at a site like pandora or cnn and the site already knows who he is.

leave it to the government to jump on the bandwagon, with senators calling for scrutiny of this “witchcraft that makes the machine appear smarter than its creator.” okay, well they didn’t say it quite like that, but you know that’s what they were thinking.

read what perez (no facebook lover) says about instant personalization before you flick the switch. you might like it!

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the qualified yes is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache