Facebook Sows The Seeds Of Sharing Its Walled Garden

The web is all atwitter today at the announcement of Facebook’s new privacy options, which many pundits are heralding as the first step towards the big blue giant being able to challenge the tiny tweeting bird in a battle for business model supremacy. So, what’s all the fuss about?

Well, in a non-jargon-laden nutshell, Facebook’s new privacy options will essentially allow users to open the content they create on Facebook up to the entire world wide web. That means that google could soon be indexing everything from your drunken college photos to your most serious status posts. Of course, the whole plan is opt-in, meaning that it won’t happen unless you as a user make the choice to let it happen. And, Facebook is promising that it will wait for a probationary period before opening up the newly opened content to search engines. But, either way, it’s a big step forward from the walled garden of facebook past to the public (and potentially more monetizable) stream of facebook’s future — to mix a couple of nature metaphors.

Now, why would bloggers who traditionally err on the side of shared, social standards like the whole open web movement be against Facebook’s first major attempt to open up its user generated content? Well, first of all, many of them seem to feel like this is just a cheap, transparent ploy to jump on the Twitter train. Or twain if you will. But, more importantly, many of them make the point that a lot of people who use Facebook aren’t necessarily web or world savvy enough to truly understand the implications of allowing everyone and their mother (and your mother) to see those embarrassing Facebook photos when they google your name. For a lot of the kids who use Facebook, the perpetuity of public content on the web is a concept as foreign as their own mortality, or the fact that the Miley Cyrus might not be the most talented person on the planet.

At Ranker, we’re constantly dealing with the issue of public vs. private, so I have some sympathy for the Facebook team’s tough position at this point. It’s hard enough to figure out how to intelligently straddle the line between encouraging your users to share their content and helping them to keep the stuff they don’t want shared private, let alone trying to do so somewhat retroactively. That’s why we’ve already architected a system that goes beyond a simple ‘publish’ and ‘don’t publish’ binary to allow users to make the choice between posting their lists, keeping their lists private, saving their lists as drafts or just sharing them directly with certain, specific people. Of course, all you can see on the site right now is the choice between ‘publish’ and ‘don’t publish,’ but we’ve got our plans for the rest of it in the works, if not in development.

I think what it comes down to with all this Facebook controversy is the fact that Facebook not only promised its users that it would be a walled garden, but it used that whole walled garden concept to differentiate it from the surfeit of other social networks that cropped up before and after it. The walled garden approach was one of the big reasons behind the exodus of users from Myspace to Facebook in the first place. Now that Facebook is looking to open up the garden doors, it’s going to have a much more difficult time convincing people that the garden should be open to the public.

All in all, it should be interesting to see what the seeds Facebook planted today will end up yielding, and either way, I’m still planning to plant my content in the Facebook field. But, I’m also going to have send my 12 year old brother a wall post warning him that if he doesn’t want his pending puberty posted on google for all to see, he better not opt into the new Facebook privacy options.

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