I am very ambivalent about places like Google+ and Facebook. I like the idea of a platform that makes it easy to share and connect with friends, but… there always are problems.
It relates to why European teens are allegedly abandoning Facebook in droves.
It relates to unease giving corporate entities access to personal information.
It relates to frequent annoyances and misguided features.
To me personally, the corporate trust issue is less of a reason. Not because I actually trust Google and Facebook and Microsoft, but because the reality is that we all are already trusting a lot of large corporations anyway.
Do you have an Android phone? Well, then you are running Google’s OS and they are essentially in full control of your phone already, and everything you do with or through it. If Google decided to go evil, they’d have all our personal information and bank details.
Do you have an Apple phone? Same story, different company.
Additionally, we routinely trust the manufacturer of our phone hardware, the manufacturer of the major chips inside the phone, the network operator you are subscribing with, the company that installed the mobile phone towers in your area, the manufacturers of the hardware of these phone towers, and so on.
If any one of these links in the chain, wanted to maliciously intercept all your data, they can do so if they want it badly enough. And there is no way for us to tell whether they are or aren’t doing so.
My trust comes from any misdeeds of this nature sooner or later coming to light.
Annoyances and Mis-features
Every so often it seems the big social platforms betray their users in the most logical of ways. We’re playing on their services for free, and they will always keep looking for ways to increase the value of our interactions so that they can make money somewhere.
Facebook has a habit of making changes to the privacy settings. To make our content less private. Their revenue model drives from having people make connections and share with each other. And by that sharing show things about themselves Facebook can monetize. They do not want you to hide your information and keep private; they want you as public as possible.
Google is mostly motivated by search. Their moves try to increase the value of search and credibility. They don’t care as much about how we relate with each other and what we do exactly (for now), but they do want to know what information is reputable. Google wants to create “PageRank for People” so they can tell who knows what about what, and who is just full of shit.
Invariably these moves lead to outrage, but that always quiets down again in the end, because when it comes down to it we all just want to share with our friends and family, and there really are few other places to go with comparable features or commitment from our existing contacts.
The Social Circle Problem
What has been driving European teenagers off Facebook is kinda interesting. Teenagers like Facebook. Late to the party, parents start showing up on Facebook. Teenagers accept friend requests from parents (because they feel they have to?). Teenagers feel this invades their private friend-space. Teenagers flee.
The same problem exists with mixing other social circles… work and friends… friends and family… family and work… close friends… special interests.
What’s interesting is that the tool to resolve this problem comes included with Facebook: Lists. But they just aren’t as easy to use as they could be. I’m not sure whether this is a purposeful strategy, or a failure to see why this is an important aspect of a social platform into the future.
We all move in a multitude of circles. We all are many pieces of different identity that we do not necessarily want to mix with all our circles. That gaming habit might elicit ridicule at work. That party you’re throwing might not be for all your friends to know about. Those family photos might not be for anyone but family for a variety of reasons.
I think there’s room for a social network that gets privacy and dealing with our many interwoven identities right, but in the mean time…
Setting up and properly using Facebook lists can make what already exists a lot more bearable.
My current strategy:
- Add all missing family members to the “Family” smart-list
- Add all co-workers to the company-named smart-list
- For anyone not on lists 1 or 2
Add everyone you don’t really know to the “Restricted” list
(you move them on to other lists later when you know them better)
- For anyone not on lists 1, 2 or 3
Add anyone that you only want to see important posts from to “Acquaintances“
- For anyone not on lists 2, 3 or 4
Add anyone you are close to, to “Close Friends” so you see all their posts
- Create any other special-topic lists with appropriate names added to them
The people on the “Restricted” list will only see material that is already published publicly anyway, plus anything they are explicitly mentioned in. This is a good place to put new people who you’re hesitant about until you decide where they really belong.
Facebook considers everybody else a “Friend” and can see what you normally post and comment on your feed.
For those marked “Acquaintances” you will only see the most important posts so your timeline does not get cluttered up by people you only very vaguely know. Like that person you spoke to that one single time at that party.
For those marked “Close Friends” you will see everything they post. So keep this list to your real closest friends. Anyone not marked explicitly as “Acquaintances” or “Close Friends” will presumably sit on a level somewhat in between the two.
And when posting something new, by default the publishing setting is “visible to Friends”, but with these lists properly populated it becomes very easy to publish something only to “Family”, or “Close Friends”, or “Work” as appropriate for the occasion. For bonus points you can then go through the privacy settings and adjust these so that your address is only for family, and your mobile number only for close friends.
And those fleeing teenagers? They could easily create a “No-Adults-Allowed” list and then make this their default publishing target. As long as they post enough mundane stories to “Friends”, their parents would never be the wiser they aren’t seeing the good stuff.