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With Facebook’s New Privacy Settings, Worlds Will Collide

December 2, 2009

One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is when George becomes angered that Jerry and Elaine start hanging out with his fiancee, Susan. “Worlds collide,” George says. “A George, divided against himself, cannot stand.”

George wants to compartmentalize, or wall-off, his life into different networks. There’s his home network, and his friends network. That was back in 1995. Today, in the age of social technologies, we have many more worlds than the cripplingly neurotic George possibly could have handled.

On Twitter, due to its innately public nature, worlds collide into one. Many people choose not to embrace Twitter because of this reason. If they tweet, everyone — all their worlds, or the whole world in fact — sees it. Outside the world of techies, social media insiders, PR/marketers and celebrities, this isn’t an appealing proposition, which might explain why normal people don’t join us geeks on Twitter. Even if they do, we scare them off and they bail after a month or two.

Facebook’s stands in sharp contrast. Its ability to help us separate networks and prevent worlds from colliding is what makes it appealing. This is precisely the reason everyone should have reservations about Facebook’s decision to simplify the privacy settings page to “everyone,” “friends,” or “friends of friends.” I understand most people aren’t using the current iteration of privacy settings, and that Friend Lists weren’t utilized as much as Facebook hoped, but that’s their users’ loss.

In fact, Facebook shouldn’t give up on the current “complex” settings; it should instead work harder to educate people on how to use them. If anything, Facebook should continue to make privacy an even more sophisticated mechanism to reflect the complexity of our many networks, or worlds, we interact and share with everyday. Simplification, in this case, is wrong.

The new privacy settings will be mitigated slightly by the added ability to choose who you specifically share an individual piece of content with on the social network. But as it concerns the privacy settings page, the simplification to “friends” “friends of friends” and “everyone” reflects Facebook’s desire to compete with Twitter more directly.

Facebook should want to be as different from Twitter as possible.

Even novice followers of technology agree that simplicity matters. That’s one of the reasons why Facebook beat MySpace, why Google beat Yahoo, and why Macs win the hearts and minds war over PCs. But sometimes, there’s room for complexity if it’s utilized in an effort to complement the dynamics of our real lives.

This is Facebook’s advantage, and it shouldn’t mortgage it for eyeballs or because it doesn’t like the fact it gets gushed over less than Twitter right now. Facebook can be the Everyman Costanza’s 21st century savior. It can be the thing that helps us separate our worlds, because believe it or not, like George, not everyone wants them to collide.

/cgl

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2009 6:59 pm

    I agree with you, Chris: The fact that Facebook has always maintained some semblance of privacy is what distinguished it from–and enabled it to beat out–MySpace. Like you, I think more people have been drawn to Facebook than any other social network because they feel it is more private than competitors and because they feel they have control over what they reveal on that network and to whom they reveal it. In an age where people say that privacy no longer exists, Facebook can and should compete by giving users granular control over what they share.

  2. December 4, 2009 4:52 am

    I like Facebook the way it is. If you want privacy, don’t go online.

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