Facebook Dilemma

Here is something I did not know: Mark Zuckerberg wears hoodies with the company mission printed on the inside. I am not quite sure how that makes me feel about him… but it is one of those things they might ask when you are at the $64,000 question on “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”

So I learned this interesting (admittedly redundant) piece of information watching the Zuckerberg interview at All Things Digital Conference – a good place to be, if you are looking for broad, opinionated strokes from the CEOs companies that matter in the digital space.

But what is relevant and useful in that interview is Mark’s view on the fine line (and it is a fine line) between personal privacy and the need for sharing of information to make the internet more personal. Zuckerberg is the CEO of a company that is the market leader (some may argue that broadly speaking Google is in the same space and therefore the market leader) in monetizing social data (information + interaction). It is how they make money and it is in their best interests to qualitatively/quantitatively refine that social data. The more we share and the more we interact with people on Facebook the more data Facebook has to monetize.

So in essence, the” more open and connected” (Facebook mission) the world is, the better it is for Facebook. The mission is noble and makes money for the company.

Then there is the other side – privacy. This is what concerns a significant user base. Current Facebook snafus have done little to convince users that Facebook will protect their information with the same zeal that banks and hospitals protect (are required to) their information.

I say snafus because they were not errors in judgement, but in communication and overall execution. Consider the defaulting of privacy settings to “Facebook recommended”; once Zuckerberg explained why it was done and how it was done, it made whole lot of sense to me. This should have been communicated with the user base and the new user sign ups before implementation, with an opt out option made available to the users on that same communication. Simple – this is why we were doing this, this is how it makes sense for you and you can opt out if you don’t like it.

Then there is the whole generation thing. Young people are more comfortable sharing personal information, older folks tend to be more careful and deliberate about what they share. Also, there is a segment of the US population that is obsessed with “Big Brother voyeurism” in their lives. So when you have such a diverse user base, it is important to come out of your monolithic silicon valley view of the world and conduct some online focus groups to see how important changes to the platform are going to play out. I don’t expect them to let you change your mind about the implementation, but it will give you some useful data on how/what to communicate.

Then there is the interface issue. It is hard for non technical folk to understand groups/access lists/containers…. Facebook can take a cue from Apple here and revamp their settings interface a little and make it more interaction friendly…

Then there is this side of me that thinks… maybe Facebook wants to make it hard for me to control my data…. but then there is this other side of me, that wants to believe Zuckerberg is serious and sincere about creating a more open and connected web… and in spite of the recent The Social Network, it is my trust in the new nerd God and his mission that is winning. For now.

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