Recently, we’ve endured a blizzard of articles on Facebook and its handling of privacy. This is an important and serious issue, but the result is that Facebook has created its own cloud of noise that is hiding some really cool progress. Here’s a summary of what I’m hearing that sounds leading-edge.
#1 – Open Graph has promise – basically, Facebook wants to map people’s relationships and their connections to all objects and content on the Web. For consumers, this is as simple as being linked to restaurants or books you may like. For corporations, this has the potential to help us reach the right people within a 500MM+ population more effectively. Open Graph could help us find all people, for example, interested in laptops or corporate social responsibility topics with greater ease. We have talked about Facebook for several years as being “the fourth largest country” in size. Well, it may finally be possible to start meeting like-minded citizens of this country village by village and individual by individual.
#2 – The difference between links and Open Graph – we have been conditioned by search engines to view “links” as the most important way to get to your next piece of information. With Open Graph, think of it as a way that these links are being bought to you directly based on your content patterns. In reality, all search is doing is figuring out what you want. Same with Open Graph, just without links.
#3 – The “Like” feature – this is a more precise way of the user saying what they believe is important. This is actually better than a search engine trying to infer what you like from the words you use. It is more direct. Facebook treats all people and things (movies, books) as objects. They then map out the links between them, based on what people say they like. It’s really our way of voting on what we like, so that we receive relevant content. Once I thought that through, I started using the Like button more often.
#4 – The battle is over choice and informed consent more than privacy – what Facebook is not doing well is being super clear on what changes they want to make and why. This makes the personal user feel like they are being duped. It is really more about the user having the right to choose their level of privacy in a clear-headed way. Facebook has work to do here to make it simple. My recommendation is they dust off their Marketing 101 text book. We learned in school that every brand is defined by its promise to the customer. If you start messing with that promise, you better be super clear on why. You don’t just change things (New Coke comes to mind). With Facebook, their promise included the belief that it is a walled garden…and your content is safe. That’s a pretty big part of their brand DNA. I wouldn’t take privacy lightly in the future and I would stop writing policies that are literally longer than the U.S. Constitution in length. Time for the lawyers to take a vacation, perhaps.
#5 – At the end of the day, Google and Facebook are starting a long battle for leadership — Facebook is trying to add socially intelligent metadata to the entire Web. Google has more data on what web pages we care about. Facebook can figure out which pages/topics matter to real people far faster with their approach…..or can they? The battle between these two titans is just getting started. As they say in Vegas, let’s get ready to rrrrrummmmbbblllle……
#6 – Privacy is a web issue more than a Facebook issue – in general, anything that is online should be assumed to be available publicly eventually. The online population is becoming increasingly comfortable with this reality, but it will be visited by bumps in the road. It’s really a matter of how Facebook proactively explains its position in a way that is clear and easy to understand…..if they do this….people will spend more time reflecting on the tremendous progress they are making that is being overshadowed today.
All the best, Bob