Social network Facebook, facing rebellion from within its ranks, scrambled last night to address backlash against new features. The company has apologized for the abruptness of its launch of its new friend monitoring tools, News Feed and Mini-Feed, and made their privacy settings more specific. CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted an open letter to all users, explaining that though the site is built around closed networks and control over sharing information, “Somehow we missed this point with Feed and we didn’t build in the proper privacy controls right away. This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it.”
Information submitted to News Feeds are now divided into three categories: optionally excluded, excluded, and always included. Some of the most contentious issues, such as notifications for when a friend left a group or changed his relationship status, are now optional. Information about passive activities on the site, such as viewing profiles and reading notes, is excluded, as well as declining to be friends with someone or to join an group or event. But Facebook is holding firm on a few points: always published are expansions to a person’s profile, such as new favorites, photos, notes, events, or groups.
Users seemed appeased by the response, leaving comments such as “The fact that they started working to fix the problem so quickly really shows how much they care. I feel like a jerk who created silly high-school drama,” and “Zuckerberg is obviously willing to take our input, so give the dude time to work out the kinks. In the meantime, celebrate that someone cared enough to listen to what a bunch of kids had to say!!” Still, nearly 750,000 people remained part of the core Facebook protest group, Students Against Facebook News Feed. The group’s leader wrote “We’re not completely done yet, but we’ve made incredible progress,” noting he was not satisfied that changes made to membership in groups were still displayed.
Zuckerberg and other Facebook staff promised to be available in a discussion group this afternoon to address concerns. This does seem like a case where tools that Facebook hasn’t built would be better for facilitating conversation — the venue is a simple bulletin board!
Facebook’s rapid response to its community may save it from becoming the next Friendster. The company is most certainly pushing its ideal of a social network utility rather than let its users evolve the site naturally. Facebook works best for relationships that people want to maintain — in those cases, privacy is much less important.
What would be best for Zuckerberg is if all his members went through and deleted all the legacy connections, making their networks accurate depictions of who they currently have relationships with. However, as we noted in the comments to our previous post on this issue, the Venn diagrams of friends on Facebook are becoming more complicated every year. Facebook makes considerable effort to parse out which of your friends can see what, but it needs to continue to innovate in this levels-of-relationship area to have any hope of its lofty visions.