First Thoughts on Facebook’s Big Day
For a roundup of articles I found helpful and insightful about Facebook’s announcements, go here.
So yesterday was one of the more interesting days to be a Web guy in a long, long time. Reading about what Facebook had rolled out, I had to fight a sense of frustration that there was no way to take it all in and reach even a tentative conclusion — things are going to change so thoroughly that it will take weeks or probably months to even start sorting through all this.
I know what Facebook plans worries a lot of really smart people, but at first glance it doesn’t particularly bother me. If anything, I was excited to see it.
As I’ve dived deeper and deeper into social media I’ve seen a curious split in how I think of my Web habits: There’s time I spend on the wild, ever-changing, dynamic social Web and time I spend on the essentially static non-social Web. I know on some level it’s ridiculous to talk about Web sites websites as static, particularly in comparison with newspapers or books, but after Twitter that’s the way they feel. I increasingly find myself spending more time in the social precincts of the Web, and have eagerly adopted most everything that pushes the static Web that way. (When I’m searching, it’s now practically second nature for me to set “Latest” or “Past 24 Hours” instead of doing a default search.) This is a logical and welcome next step. (And in case you didn’t think Facebook is poised to eat the consumer Web, it has the infrastructure in place for location-based services and a payments system. This is going to get bigger.)
As a Web user, I love the idea of “socializing” the static Web so that my friends and peers essentially ride along with me. I’d be happy to see which of my friends and peers liked or have read something on the Washington Post or the New Yorker or most anywhere else. I didn’t get a lot of use out of that functionality on Huffington Post, which pioneered it, but that’s because I’m not a HuffPo loyalist. Though to that I’ll add that I would demand the ability to manicure my history — I remember the moment when I realized I’d just broadcast reading some HuffPo slideshow about half-dressed starlets and immediately went looking for how to make that vanish. (Dishonest? Sure. But it should no longer be news to anybody that our social-media selves aren’t the same as our real selves.)
A jolt of Facebook makes a service such as Yelp much more valuable — like anybody else, I find recommendations much more useful (or at least more compelling) when they come from a smaller group of friends and peers. Ditto for music — Pandora is a great music-discovery engine, but feeding my friends’ listening habits into it makes it far better. I don’t shop socially, but I see how a lot of people would have the same reaction to socializing their shopping habits.
Privacy is obviously a big concern here — I was amused by EPIC counsel Ginger McCall’s reaction, as given to TechNewsWorld: “this gives me lots of interesting work in the days ahead.” But perhaps this is naive, but I don’t get up in arms about being the target of behavioral advertising. Or rather, what I dislike is when that targeting done badly or dishonestly: The former wastes my attention, and the latter angers me. Truly well-targeted ads would be fine with me — a band I’ve been listening to a lot just announced a gig in Brooklyn, there’s a new throwback Mets jersey I might like, and so on. More complete information would help that along, as — again — would the ability to prune things from my history, as I do with TiVo and Amazon recommendations. (Yes, this is tending an idealized self-image once more. I know that. Marketers are learning it too.) If the targeting doesn’t work, I’ll just tune it out — the last decade has given us all superb filters for marketing bullshit.
As for the perils of centralizing so much of this information, acknowledged. But to that, I’ll note two things. One is that Facebook has been responsive to users’ complaints — it pushes users, yes, but it also can be pushed back. Another is that I’d rather have a single place where I can see what’s being shared and with whom than have to monitor that across hundreds or thousands of websites and services, similar to how there’s now one site for accessing the various credit-report agencies.
As a publisher, meanwhile, I’m eager to use all this stuff here and on my baseball blog. I want to add Like buttons and Facebook sidebars and all these things. (And I’m sure publishers big and small feel the same way — this stuff is going to spread really quickly.) Partially that’s because I of course want to see more about who’s reading and better understand how things are connecting. But it’s also because I like the idea as a reader and think a lot of readers will feel the same way. There’s a lot more to understand about how Facebook will use this information, how accessible and visible it will be to us and how much control we’ll have over how it’s shared and used. It may be that I don’t like the answers as I begin to discover them. But for right now, I’m excited about all this as a publisher and as a reader. That seems like an encouraging sign.
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