Danah is confused by Facebook’s fans

Danah Boyd writes that she’s she is “utterly confused by the ways in which the tech industry fetishizes Facebook”.

She asks some good questions and makes some good points. Lets go through them. My answers in italics.

1. “In an effort to curb spam, they killed off legitimate uses of mass messaging, silencing those well-intentioned users that adored them.” Totally true. It’s ridiculous that I can’t add more than 5,000 contacts. Even worse is the scalability of the platform they designed. Many of the apps I’ve been using lately simply don’t work if you have more than a couple hundred of contacts.

2. “But what I don’t understand is why so much of the tech crowd who lament Walled Gardens worship Facebook.” Because there isn’t anything better. It’s like why we are so gaga over the iPhone. The iPhone is locked up tight and doesn’t let us play. But it is so superior to the alternatives that we’ll put up with all the walls. I’ve seen this play out before, though. Remember in 1989? Apple had the Macintosh II and was way ahead of any other platform. They ended up with, what, five percent market share because a more open platform steamrolled over them. It’s why I watch Plaxo so closely and keep cheering them on.

3. Join a City network and your profile is far more open than you realize. Ahh, the walls aren’t high enough! Heheh. One of the first things I recommend people to learn on Facebook is how to use the privacy settings to adjust who has access to your stuff.

4. The default is far beyond friends-only and locking a FB profile down to friends-only takes dozens of clicks in numerous different locations. Totally true. For many people changing their privacy settings will take too much work. Facebook would be good to come up with some scenario-based choices. “I don’t want anything available to anyone.” “I’m cool with some of my stuff, but not my private stuff available to my friends.” Etc., etc. Personally, I’m on the other end of the scale “I don’t want any walls between me and anyone who wants to see me.” I guess that’s why I have a blog along with a Facebook profile.

5. if you install an App, you give the creator access to all of your profile data (no one reads those checkboxes anyhow). Yes, true. Be careful of those apps. On the other hand that’s what makes apps work well for me.

6. 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. Yikes. Not that evil Google! Personally I love that you can find my stuff through Google (click that and you’ll see what my Facebook profile looks like to Google). And those college students will be very happy when employers start contacting them with career opportunities (or better).

7. Is [the over-30] crowd sustainable? Is it worth it monetarily? Is it affecting the college participation? Based on my discussions with people, yes, although she does identify that not everyone gets Facebook. Enough do, though, to make it a big business concern.

I think Danah is onto something, though. Facebook has a few huge holes:

1. The app platform rocks cause it’s the first time we’ve been able to see what our friends have loaded on their machines but it sucks lately because the new kind of apps (the ones that aren’t stupid games or gifts) rely on studying your social graph. Those kinds of apps generally aren’t scalable, rarely work, and generally break if you have more than a couple hundred of friends.

2) Privacy in Facebook is frustrating. For me I just want to turn it all off. So I notice the walls. For my friends who are newbies and who don’t want to be public? The settings are too hard to figure out and the nomenclature is difficult to understand. What’s a “network” anyway? Who does that apply to? There aren’t any examples and you only learn about those by spending a bunch of time inside Facebook learning about how it works. Danah’s right to point out this stuff is way too hard and doesn’t “thrill.”

3) I want per-content privacy. Flickr gets this right by letting me click a button on photos and setting the privacy for that photo.

4) The limit on # of friends? Ridiculous. Get rid of that. Or let me pay for a “pro” account without any limits. Buzz Bruggeman has tens of thousands of people in Microsoft Outlook. It’s not impossible to get that many contacts. If Facebook really wants to be the rolodex for the modern age it needs to get rid of those limits. Everytime someone wants to add me now it makes me pissed off at Facebook. It’s pissing me off hour of every day now.

Anyway, thanks to Danah for getting a conversation going. Tomorrow’s Data Sharing Summit should be a good place to discuss all this stuff.

79 thoughts on “Danah is confused by Facebook’s fans

  1. Robert, if you want to surround yourself with all 1 million of the fanboys & fangirls who idolize you, just make yourself a group on Facebook. That’s the way to connect with your ‘fans.’ Leave friends for what it actually means; people you have made a connection with.

  2. Robert, if you want to surround yourself with all 1 million of the fanboys & fangirls who idolize you, just make yourself a group on Facebook. That’s the way to connect with your ‘fans.’ Leave friends for what it actually means; people you have made a connection with.

  3. The opening of Facebook content to search engines may have a silver lining. Many college students and recent grads feel a personal violation takes place when potential employers search social networking sites as part of a background check. For better or worse, it is the reality of today’s world. The fact that 95% of people now carry a camera 24/7 just makes it a bit more scary.

    Though “we’ve all done it”, a nice party photo of a half-dressed, obviously inebriated student lives in perpetuity in today’s world.

    The silver lining? Our talented young folks may think twice before posting those entertaining pictures.

    For all of us, our personal lives lived in public places just isn’t so private anymore. Thank goodness my college life days were pre-camera phones!

  4. The opening of Facebook content to search engines may have a silver lining. Many college students and recent grads feel a personal violation takes place when potential employers search social networking sites as part of a background check. For better or worse, it is the reality of today’s world. The fact that 95% of people now carry a camera 24/7 just makes it a bit more scary.

    Though “we’ve all done it”, a nice party photo of a half-dressed, obviously inebriated student lives in perpetuity in today’s world.

    The silver lining? Our talented young folks may think twice before posting those entertaining pictures.

    For all of us, our personal lives lived in public places just isn’t so private anymore. Thank goodness my college life days were pre-camera phones!

  5. Re: Your #6 comment, “And those college students will be very happy when employers start contacting them with career opportunities (or better).”

    Nay, my friend. I’m not sure if you’ve friended any college students on Facebook and then perused their photos and comments but for a large portion of the student population in America, Facebook is a memory repository of things you did last night that you do not remember.

    Employers will start throwing out college students’ job applications when they see their Facebook profile on a google search; not the other way around.

    As a former college student, I have to admit it rankles me a little bit that all these 30+ year olds are suddenly adoring Facebook as some divine tool for social change. For college students, it’s a snapshot of what you support (Obama, your home state, bringing garlic mashed potatoes back to the cafeteria), a repository for pictures of your weekend (or weeknight) debauchery or trips with friends, and a quick, easy, and public way to stay in touch with your friends.

    Try as all of you might, I don’t think I’ll ever take Facebook seriously as an influential service.

  6. Re: Your #6 comment, “And those college students will be very happy when employers start contacting them with career opportunities (or better).”

    Nay, my friend. I’m not sure if you’ve friended any college students on Facebook and then perused their photos and comments but for a large portion of the student population in America, Facebook is a memory repository of things you did last night that you do not remember.

    Employers will start throwing out college students’ job applications when they see their Facebook profile on a google search; not the other way around.

    As a former college student, I have to admit it rankles me a little bit that all these 30+ year olds are suddenly adoring Facebook as some divine tool for social change. For college students, it’s a snapshot of what you support (Obama, your home state, bringing garlic mashed potatoes back to the cafeteria), a repository for pictures of your weekend (or weeknight) debauchery or trips with friends, and a quick, easy, and public way to stay in touch with your friends.

    Try as all of you might, I don’t think I’ll ever take Facebook seriously as an influential service.

  7. Dear Robert,

    1. mass messaging: there is a middle point. You should be allowed to send a message to your community. The community should have the option of mass or not mass message. They should publish this info before you join.

    3. Join a City network. I recommend to allow us to join or change before the 60 days.

    5. if you install an App, you give the creator access to all of your profile data (no one reads those checkboxes anyhow). My recommendation to Facebook is to make three levels of data and to choose the type of data we like to share with anyone.

    7. Is [the over-30] crowd sustainable? Is it worth it monetarily? Yes I am working is a application to give some professional value to it. I guess other people will do the same thing over time.

    Mario Ruiz
    http://www.oursheet.com

  8. Dear Robert,

    1. mass messaging: there is a middle point. You should be allowed to send a message to your community. The community should have the option of mass or not mass message. They should publish this info before you join.

    3. Join a City network. I recommend to allow us to join or change before the 60 days.

    5. if you install an App, you give the creator access to all of your profile data (no one reads those checkboxes anyhow). My recommendation to Facebook is to make three levels of data and to choose the type of data we like to share with anyone.

    7. Is [the over-30] crowd sustainable? Is it worth it monetarily? Yes I am working is a application to give some professional value to it. I guess other people will do the same thing over time.

    Mario Ruiz
    http://www.oursheet.com

  9. Coney Island ’57? A mildly down market funfair where everyone from NY congregated at the weekend and got mildly out of control with their friends. But then I’m not an American so maybe I have a distorted view of what it was like. For the Brits reading, try Butlins ’67

    One way or another society is going to have to come to terms with having no privacy and the past being permanently available in all it’s gory detail. What you did in your late teens should have nothing to do with your ability to function in your late 20s. And frankly if an employer is bothered by this you probably don’t want to work for them. But then what about potential politicians and public sector workers? “I did not inhale”. Oh yes, you did. And I found the Flickr photograph to prove it.

  10. Coney Island ’57? A mildly down market funfair where everyone from NY congregated at the weekend and got mildly out of control with their friends. But then I’m not an American so maybe I have a distorted view of what it was like. For the Brits reading, try Butlins ’67

    One way or another society is going to have to come to terms with having no privacy and the past being permanently available in all it’s gory detail. What you did in your late teens should have nothing to do with your ability to function in your late 20s. And frankly if an employer is bothered by this you probably don’t want to work for them. But then what about potential politicians and public sector workers? “I did not inhale”. Oh yes, you did. And I found the Flickr photograph to prove it.

  11. Robert – I’m afraid you have a far more optimistic view on what’s going to happen when the “digital trails” that all the kids are leaving these days follow them into the workplace.

    I’m all for FB or MySpace or whatever as a place for fun, but the reality is that employers will continue to take a dim light on people who do ridiculous stuff and find it necessary to post about it on the public Internet.

    I know that my employer has already rejected one prospective candidate who listed her MySpace on her resume (a MySpace that referenced her mildly illegal antics).

    I did plenty of similarly stupid stuff in my youth, I’m just glad there isn’t a instantly searchable, totally accessible, forever archived record of all that insanity floating around. Kids need the space to experiment, and they’re always going to be doing things that they later chalk up as “youthful indiscretions”. I’m just not sure that excuse will hold water with employers when they’re choosing whether to offer you an internship or a job and your FB or archive.org or a google search of you shows lots of drunken ranting.

  12. Robert – I’m afraid you have a far more optimistic view on what’s going to happen when the “digital trails” that all the kids are leaving these days follow them into the workplace.

    I’m all for FB or MySpace or whatever as a place for fun, but the reality is that employers will continue to take a dim light on people who do ridiculous stuff and find it necessary to post about it on the public Internet.

    I know that my employer has already rejected one prospective candidate who listed her MySpace on her resume (a MySpace that referenced her mildly illegal antics).

    I did plenty of similarly stupid stuff in my youth, I’m just glad there isn’t a instantly searchable, totally accessible, forever archived record of all that insanity floating around. Kids need the space to experiment, and they’re always going to be doing things that they later chalk up as “youthful indiscretions”. I’m just not sure that excuse will hold water with employers when they’re choosing whether to offer you an internship or a job and your FB or archive.org or a google search of you shows lots of drunken ranting.

  13. Personally, I’m on the other end of the scale “I don’t want any walls between me and anyone who wants to see me.” I guess that’s why I have a blog along with a Facebook profile.

    This is why folks took exception when you placed content that was available only on FB a few weeks ago. There was a definite wall placed between you and your audience. I suspect your blog reaches far wider than the 5000 “friends” you have on FB.

  14. Personally, I’m on the other end of the scale “I don’t want any walls between me and anyone who wants to see me.” I guess that’s why I have a blog along with a Facebook profile.

    This is why folks took exception when you placed content that was available only on FB a few weeks ago. There was a definite wall placed between you and your audience. I suspect your blog reaches far wider than the 5000 “friends” you have on FB.

  15. There are many things that FB needs to revise if they expect to be accepted mainstream. Perhaps they don’t. But when I can’t put my “relationship status” because there is no category for me and the only work option is that of an employee…well, all those assumptions regarding who I am and who I can’t be is off-putting.

  16. There are many things that FB needs to revise if they expect to be accepted mainstream. Perhaps they don’t. But when I can’t put my “relationship status” because there is no category for me and the only work option is that of an employee…well, all those assumptions regarding who I am and who I can’t be is off-putting.

  17. I like the max-on-friends rule; it makes facebook more private. If you want a fan club, start a myspace profile.

  18. I like the max-on-friends rule; it makes facebook more private. If you want a fan club, start a myspace profile.

  19. Please wise up.

    in terms of comment 2: nobody has 5000 friends. it is impossible to have 100k friends.

    People need to sit back and realise what the word “friend” really means, as opposed to some RSS addict on the other side of the world whom you will never meet but who has spent 5 seconds “adding” you as a “friend”.

    This is self-aggrandising on a worryingly huge level. Thankfully it means nothing to the real world.

  20. Please wise up.

    in terms of comment 2: nobody has 5000 friends. it is impossible to have 100k friends.

    People need to sit back and realise what the word “friend” really means, as opposed to some RSS addict on the other side of the world whom you will never meet but who has spent 5 seconds “adding” you as a “friend”.

    This is self-aggrandising on a worryingly huge level. Thankfully it means nothing to the real world.

  21. Hey Robert,
    I’ve seen your angst about the Facebook friends limit. What if while you’re waiting.. you created another (because there can be multiple of the same name) & then once they take that limit off, you could merge them? Just a suggestion – I realize it’s not ideal.

  22. Hey Robert,
    I’ve seen your angst about the Facebook friends limit. What if while you’re waiting.. you created another (because there can be multiple of the same name) & then once they take that limit off, you could merge them? Just a suggestion – I realize it’s not ideal.

  23. I’d like to be able to join two city networks. I live in Ft. Lauderdale but my company is in Vancouver (I telecommute). I’d like to be able to belong to both networks, since I have more friends in the Vancouver network than my home network.

  24. I’d like to be able to join two city networks. I live in Ft. Lauderdale but my company is in Vancouver (I telecommute). I’d like to be able to belong to both networks, since I have more friends in the Vancouver network than my home network.

  25. Robert: Thanks! I’ll take your word. I’ll contact you in about a week or so. I am sure that with the current interface, it won’t work for you. I’ll make the necessary tweaks so I don’t waste you time.

  26. Robert: Thanks! I’ll take your word. I’ll contact you in about a week or so. I am sure that with the current interface, it won’t work for you. I’ll make the necessary tweaks so I don’t waste you time.

  27. Robert, stop perpetuating the myth that Mac was steamrollered by a more open platform. Mac was always a challenger brand with a small minority share.

    In 1981 IBM PC and PC-DOS (AKA MS-DOS) were challenger brands. But by the time Mac showed up in 1984, MS-DOS was already dominant. Mac couldn’t even beat DOS!

    When Windows 3 was released in 1990. Windows steamrollered DOS. Mac held its (tiny patch of) ground.

    Apple worked very hard to pull in developers… they were stymied more by eonomics (it was hard to get funded for the small Mac user population when the Windows target seemed so much fatter).

    Make your case for open systems using supportable evidence. Not your private mythology

  28. Robert, stop perpetuating the myth that Mac was steamrollered by a more open platform. Mac was always a challenger brand with a small minority share.

    In 1981 IBM PC and PC-DOS (AKA MS-DOS) were challenger brands. But by the time Mac showed up in 1984, MS-DOS was already dominant. Mac couldn’t even beat DOS!

    When Windows 3 was released in 1990. Windows steamrollered DOS. Mac held its (tiny patch of) ground.

    Apple worked very hard to pull in developers… they were stymied more by eonomics (it was hard to get funded for the small Mac user population when the Windows target seemed so much fatter).

    Make your case for open systems using supportable evidence. Not your private mythology

  29. You know what, I’m really, really tired of the ageism in this industry. I must be getting old! College kids, over-30, over-50. Whatever. Tonight I heard that a major growth segment on Facebook are grannies. Its the best way for them to reach their grandchildren across the world.

    And the best bit about Facebook? It’s that it’s completely pointless. ;) At least MySpace can be justified on grounds of personal branding and publicity. Facebook’s login wall prevents even that.

    I’m not the only one that compares Facebook ’07 with AOL ’97. But I think that’s the wrong metaphor. Facebook is actually Coney Island ’57.

  30. You know what, I’m really, really tired of the ageism in this industry. I must be getting old! College kids, over-30, over-50. Whatever. Tonight I heard that a major growth segment on Facebook are grannies. Its the best way for them to reach their grandchildren across the world.

    And the best bit about Facebook? It’s that it’s completely pointless. ;) At least MySpace can be justified on grounds of personal branding and publicity. Facebook’s login wall prevents even that.

    I’m not the only one that compares Facebook ’07 with AOL ’97. But I think that’s the wrong metaphor. Facebook is actually Coney Island ’57.

  31. I have fooled around with my privacy settings for everything I can find in there, and one application that is different than them all which irks me: The Wall.

    You cant really remove the wall, you can hide it from everyone. You cant let people post but not have the wall posts show up. It would be nice to be able to say “i just want these people to use the wall” or any application for that matter. Basically that or have a moderation system. When someone comes home drunk at 2am and writes something on your wall, its there, and if you are sleeping, you can’t remove it until the next day. Also when someone tags you in a photo, you cant really remove it. Someone could put up a risque photo of you, tag it and its there for everyone to see. Not good…if you are trying to keep your profile more professional..

    The Wall has become open email for many people, or IM between two people, but with public view. The Wall is a special application that you can’t really remove.

    Also, the news/mini feed. They started adding the “Top 5 in Blah” now, if you click on them they call them “All Fluff” stories, you cant change any setting to remove these. There are a few other story types you can’t remove either. It seems some options they haven’t implemented yet. They implement the functionality then later come back and implement settings, not good either , in my opinion.

  32. I have fooled around with my privacy settings for everything I can find in there, and one application that is different than them all which irks me: The Wall.

    You cant really remove the wall, you can hide it from everyone. You cant let people post but not have the wall posts show up. It would be nice to be able to say “i just want these people to use the wall” or any application for that matter. Basically that or have a moderation system. When someone comes home drunk at 2am and writes something on your wall, its there, and if you are sleeping, you can’t remove it until the next day. Also when someone tags you in a photo, you cant really remove it. Someone could put up a risque photo of you, tag it and its there for everyone to see. Not good…if you are trying to keep your profile more professional..

    The Wall has become open email for many people, or IM between two people, but with public view. The Wall is a special application that you can’t really remove.

    Also, the news/mini feed. They started adding the “Top 5 in Blah” now, if you click on them they call them “All Fluff” stories, you cant change any setting to remove these. There are a few other story types you can’t remove either. It seems some options they haven’t implemented yet. They implement the functionality then later come back and implement settings, not good either , in my opinion.

  33. For point #1, will you help me test my Facebook app with 5000 friends? :-)

    In my spare time, I’m working for fun on a Facebook app and I currently doubt that it would scale well with 5000 friends. :-( With this possibility in mind, there are some things that I could do with the interface to make it possible. I just want to point out that the problem is not in the scalability of the platform, but in the scalability of the apps being developed. If developers don’t take into account that a Facebook member can have many hundreds of friends, it is doubtful it will scale well.

    What I think is needed for the platform – and there are rumors they are working on it – is the possibility of defining lists of friends. For the application I have in mind, it wouldn’t make sense to use it for up to 5000 friends. It would make sense to use it for a list of predefined friends (family, co-workers, influencers, etc.)

  34. For point #1, will you help me test my Facebook app with 5000 friends? :-)

    In my spare time, I’m working for fun on a Facebook app and I currently doubt that it would scale well with 5000 friends. :-( With this possibility in mind, there are some things that I could do with the interface to make it possible. I just want to point out that the problem is not in the scalability of the platform, but in the scalability of the apps being developed. If developers don’t take into account that a Facebook member can have many hundreds of friends, it is doubtful it will scale well.

    What I think is needed for the platform – and there are rumors they are working on it – is the possibility of defining lists of friends. For the application I have in mind, it wouldn’t make sense to use it for up to 5000 friends. It would make sense to use it for a list of predefined friends (family, co-workers, influencers, etc.)

  35. Facebook says that hundreds of people have hit the limit of 5,000.

    Before they put in place the limit one person got very popular and got to more than 100,000 friends.

    On MySpace one guy has millions of friends, but that was designed into the service.

  36. Facebook says that hundreds of people have hit the limit of 5,000.

    Before they put in place the limit one person got very popular and got to more than 100,000 friends.

    On MySpace one guy has millions of friends, but that was designed into the service.

  37. Good arguments, Robert. You miss one point though: probably only a small minority has houndreds of friends on facebook. And you’re probably the first and only one yet to reach the 5000-Limit.
    As the Facebook-Team focuses on a network based on real-life-contacts maybe their main priority isn’t Scalability in those high, everestlike areas?

  38. Good arguments, Robert. You miss one point though: probably only a small minority has houndreds of friends on facebook. And you’re probably the first and only one yet to reach the 5000-Limit.
    As the Facebook-Team focuses on a network based on real-life-contacts maybe their main priority isn’t Scalability in those high, everestlike areas?

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