by: Danah Boyd
Social network sites have become powerful tools and platforms for all sorts of content and cultural producers. Starting with Friendster, artists leveraged the network capabilities to communicate with their fans. This took on a new level with MySpace, resulting in the explicit creation of artist profiles. Even within the constraints of Facebook, artists built groups and found other ways to collect and communicate with their fans.
Unfortunately, artists are continually learning that when they rely on someone else's platform to distribute their message, they're under their control. Friendster did everything possible to discourage bands from communicating with fans on their site. MySpace reversed this trend by supporting artists, generating all sorts of kudos from the artistic community. Unfortunately, Facebook seems to have taken on a more Friendster-esque policy. My friend Baratunde was recently burned by Facebook. In an effort to curb spam, they killed off legitimate uses of mass messaging, silencing those well-intentioned users that adored them.
I am utterly confused by the ways in which the tech industry fetishizes Facebook. There's no doubt that Facebook's F8 launch was *brilliant*. Offering APIs and the possibility of monetization is a Web 2.0 developer's wet dream. (Never mind that I don't know of anyone really making money off of Facebook aside from the Poker App guy.) But what I don't understand is why so much of the tech crowd who lament Walled Gardens worship Facebook. What am I missing here? Why is the tech crowd so entranced with Facebook?
I'm also befuddled by the slippery slope of Facebook. Today, they announced public search listings on Facebook. I'm utterly fascinated by how people talk about Facebook as being more private, more secure than MySpace. By default, people's FB profiles are only available to their network. Join a City network and your profile is far more open than you realize. Accept the default search listings and you're findable on Google. The default is far beyond friends-only and locking a FB profile down to friends-only takes dozens of clicks in numerous different locations. Plus, you never can really tell because if you join a new network, everything is by-default open to that network (including your IM and phone number). To make matters weirder, if you install an App, you give the creator access to all of your profile data (no one reads those checkboxes anyhow). Most people never touch the defaults, meaning that they are far more exposed on Facebook than they realize. zrven a college network is not that secure. MySpace on the other hand is rather simple: public or friends-only. Friends-only is far more secure than the defaults on Facebook. And public is well-understood to mean anyone could access it (and often this is the goal). But I know all too well that privacy has nothing to do with reality - it's all about perception. And Facebook *feels* more secure than MySpace, even if it's not. Still, I can't wait to see how a generation of college students feel about their FB profile appearing at the top of Google searches. That outta make them feel good about socializing there. Not.
It seems odd to me that Facebook is doing all sorts of things to go against what gave them such strength: group support for people who wanted to gather around a particular activity, tightly controlled privacy defaults, and simple/clean profiles (which have been made utterly gaudy by Apps). I think I'm missing the logic here. ::scratching forehead::
I guess it's that they're trying to attract a new audience. There's no doubt that the 30+ crowd has jumped on board over the summer (although many seem already sick of it). Is that crowd sustainable? Is it worth it monetarily? Is it affecting the college participation?
To all you professors out there... what are your students' attitudes towards Facebook this fall? Are college students still super enamored with it or has it lost some of its appeal?