Facebook Adding Overexposure Options
Extroverted Facebook users will soon have a new way to share their thoughts with passerby--an option to publish status updates not just to friends, but to everybody online.
A post on the Palo Alto, Calif., company's blog explained the rationale behind this new feature:
You may have some posts you want to share with a wide audience, such as whom you voted for or how great the weather is today. Other times you may have more personal updates like your new phone number or an invitation to join you at your favorite restaurant for dinner that are meant for only close or nearby friends.
To allow that flexibility, Facebook is rolling out a new option for users who have made their profiles viewable by everyone. A new lock icon in the Publisher, the "what's on your mind?" form, will allow users to choose a potential audience for each status update: everybody on or off Facebook; all of their friends and all of their networks; friends and their friends' friends; only friends; or a custom combination that includes some people and excludes others.
Brandee Barker, Facebook's director of communications, said in a call on Friday that users would be able to discover these new public updates through an upgraded site search, now in testing, as well as its home page's highlights section.
Note that since this new Publisher option matches a profile's overall privacy setting, the people in this beta test will broadcast all their updates to the world unless they choose otherwise by clicking that lock icon. When users who haven't made their profiles world-viewable gain access to this feature, as the company hopes to do soon, logic would dictate that their updates will remain no more public than their profiles--but this change has already been misinterpreted as "Facebook will make status updates public by default."
Facebook watchers are also wondering if this represents the site's latest attempt to one-up Twitter, which has drawn a huge audience by helping people broadcast their own public updates. For example, the social-media news site Mashable picked up on a new Facebook setting indicating that people could connect with your profile "as a fan"--which sounds just like Twitter's "follow" option.
The weird thing is, Facebook already has a mechanism for people looking to connect with fans: the public pages anybody can set up. Barker said the company had not yet decided if public updates would take the place of public pages, and that the new notification option spotted by Mashable was just a test and would likely be removed. (It's still in my own settings; do you see it in yours?)
Forgive me for being skeptical, but I suspect that the Facebook folks already have some definite opinions on that issue. The public-page option can be difficult to discover and tricky to set up (thanks in part to badly-written Facebook add-on applications that break on public pages). Letting well-known, expressive or exhibitionist Facebook users broadcast updates to the public at large without having to create a new public page on the site--and then hope users find their way to that alternate address--could be simpler.
If you're on Facebook, do you have any interest in this new public option? Is the prospect of being able to publish some updates only to a subset of your friends list more interesting? Or do you already feel overwhelmed by all of Facebook's privacy and publicity options?
June 29, 2009; 1:16 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , The Web
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