Facebook's news: data downloading, new friend groups, more app oversight
We can all breathe a sigh of relief, as Facebook did not introduce yet another site redesign today. Instead, the Palo Alto, Calif., social network led off its announcements with something far more useful -- an option to take your data with you.
Company founder Mark Zuckerberg's blog post lays out what you'll be able to download as this option rolls out:
"..we've built an easy way to quickly download to your computer everything you've ever posted on Facebook and all your correspondences with friends: your messages, Wall posts, photos, status updates and profile information."
After you pass some security checks, you'll get a compressed .zip file on your desktop, which you can extract to peruse its contents in a Web browser.
This is an enormously important change for Facebook and its users. It ensures that the communication that we have downloaded remains our property and free for our reuse. If I decide to write my memoirs 20 or 30 years from now, the updates I shared on Facebook may be as important as the e-mails I archive and the paper letters I stuff in a box.
This change -- which seems somewhat modeled after Google's worthy "data liberation" efforts -- also shows a fundamental respect for users. It should be axiomatic that when you put data in, you should be able to get it out, but too many Web services, and disk-based programs, fail to include an "export" function.
(Now that I've paid all those compliments to Facebook, remember our conflicts of interest: Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook's board of directors, while the newspaper and many on the Post staff, myself included, use the site for marketing purposes.)
The second-most important shift at Facebook is a new Groups feature, rolling out over the next few days. This is an alternative to the largely ignored Friends List feature, which Zuckerberg said in his presentation has been used by only 5 percent of Facebook clients. "Nobody wants to make lists," he opined.
Groups let you farm out the work of list-making to your friends: Once you create a group, the members of it can add other people. Groups are "closed" by default (your membership in one is visible to friends, but not the content shared within it), but you can make them open or "secret," with even your membership concealed (as in, the first rule of this Facebook Group is that you do not talk about this Facebook Group). You can then share updates, pictures and video; work together on notes; and chat in real-time with all or part of the group.
Facebook's older groups option -- long the favorite vehicle for users to kvetch about new site features or policies -- will continue to be available, but it won't benefit from such new features as group chatting. The site now suggests that you set up a public page for larger virtual gatherings and congregations.
But Groups might not be all collaborative, clubby goodness. At their worst, they could combine the run-on chattiness of an e-mail thread among friends with the privacy issues you fear when friends tag you in photos, video and notes. And since your friends can not only add you to groups (subject to your veto) but add pals to the groups you create, they could get a little spammy over time.
Facebook's third feature is a new dashboard to monitor the applications you've added to your profile. Zuckerberg's blog post explains:
"You can also see in detail when they last accessed your data. You can change the settings for an application to make less information available to it, or you can even remove it completely."
That seems useful, too. But it's not nearly as important as Facebook making the concept of "you own your data" more than a well-meaning line in a user agreement.
What's your read on the news? Do you trust Facebook more or less as a result?
| October 6, 2010; 3:53 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture, Privacy, Social media
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