Facebook takes down the walled gardens

When is more privacy less privacy? When you’re using Facebook — which tonight abolished regional networks.

Let us explain. Advertisers love social media because it gives them hope of “going viral.” You know, becoming the next Razor Scooter or Subservient Chicken. A small investment, an idea takes off, and everyone passes it to everyone else for free! Trouble is, social media has never been a fully open network that allows scalable messaging. People tend to shutter themselves off in little groups, and little groups mean your message will eventually hit a wall. Facebook, for instance, has empowered such islands since its inception by walling off “networks,” or regional clusters … say a college, so that the only people who could see your photos must belong to the same college as you.

Facebook wants to make money from advertisers. Advertisers want to go viral. Network subsets prevent that from happening. Are you with us yet?

So tonight, no surprise, Mark Zuckerberg posted a note saying that all of Facebook’s regional networks will be abolished. Poof. Gone. In exchange are supposed enhancements to your Facebook privacy settings so you can decide whether to share news with just friends, or friends of friends, or everyone. Sounds good. But we think Facebook just took down millions of walls, knowing full well that most people won’t bother to tweak privacy settings to re-wall their messages off. Instead of making privacy opt-out, Facebook just made it opt-in … meaning millions will now open up their updates to the world. It’s a welcome move for advertisers who wish their memes to go viral, since all those barriers to passage are now removed. But let’s call it what it is, people: Facebook just took the privacy walls down, hoping most people won’t notice.

As Mark said in his post, “almost 50 percent of all Facebook users are members of regional networks, so this is an important issue for us.” Yes, Mark, but with regional groups now gone, it no longer is.

Image: Ian Boyd

4 thoughts on “Facebook takes down the walled gardens

  1. Great post Ben – a nice and objective assessment of the situation.

    I think the opt in/opt out analogy is a good one here. Most FB users won’t give it a second thought.

    It makes you think, if Zuckerberg and crew is doing it to further capitalize from wall-less networks, Can’t lawmakers see the light and see an “opt-in” approach’s value for something more important like organ donation?

    Just recently discovered your blog – great stuff – really enjoying it!


  2. Interesting post, Ben. My take: Facebook is a free service, so Zuckerberg should be able to monetize it anyway he wants. If people can’t be bothered to take responsibility for their own privacy, that’s not his problem. Further, if people don’t like Facebook policies, they can close their accounts and stop using it altogether. Let the market decide.

  3. Bill, you are right, it is free. But it is an interesting change in expectations if people assume their privacy is set one way and it suddenly gets opened up another.

    On a positive take, it could be a move by Facebook to also engage users more with other users. We’ve seen similar moves with the recommendations on the right side (although I hate it when FB asks me to talk to my mom). If a more open network creates more connection, Metcalfe’s network utility goes up a notch.

    Just be careful with those college drinking photos.

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