Among the college age crowd, there's an online hoopla going abouts, and I
thought it would be a great time to discuss it from an interaction
designer's point of view.
Facebook is an online community, centered around college and high school
students. It's like Myspace, in that it's extremely popular, but it's also
unlike Myspace in that it's clean, organized, and doesn't cause seizures on
Earlier this week or last, Facebook added a feature called the "News Feed"
which aggregates to the user's homepage all of the changes that other,
relevant users ("friends") made on their profiles, be it the change of
interests (yesterday I liked green eggs, today I liked ham), or the
announcement of a new party (IxDA party at my house!).
The reception for the News Feed as been overwhelmingly negative. Or at least
the most vocal of users on Facebook have made it a point to share their
dissatisfaction with the feed. It has been described as annoying, "where did
my front page go?", intrusive, creepy, and extremely stalker-friendly.
Allegedly, the creators of Facebook, and users like myself, maintain that
all of the things the feed shows you are things that one could have gathered
normally, by surfing Facebook "the old way". Instead of surfing through 30
friends to find who has new pictures, the feed just tells me so.
At first, it was awkard to see certain messages. "Jimmy is attending
Beer-a-palooza." // "Tanya added photos about Las Vegas Summer 2006" //
"Sharon and Johnny are no longer in a relationship [broken heart icon]" //
"Elizabeth changed her status from 'in a relationship' to 'married'"
Elizabeth's personal page is now filled with comments such as
"congratulations on your marriage". Would the amount of comments have been
less had the feed not been there? I.e. only Elizabeth's most personal
friends, or those who check her page most often, or those who interact with
her in person, would know that she got married, without the assistance of
the News Feed. But everyone Elizabeth has chosen to be friends with, even
your not-so-close friends (as it is a binary condition, there are no degrees
of friendship), knows that she is married.
The ability to broadcast your profile changes to other people's feeds is
currently turned on by default, and is "opt out" by choice.
Various Facebook groups are being created along the lines of "Say No to
Stalkers" or "Bring Back the Old Facebook" or "Unite and Boycott Facebook!".
So. To round it all up. How does the aggregation of already available (easy
or hard via the "manual" way?) information effect users in social contexts?
Are Facebook users justified in being concerned over "stalker-like
features"? Or should they have already been aware of the consequences of
sharing information in a virtually public space?
How does Facebook's experience relate to future scenarios, where normally
disparate, even "private", bits of information are now readily available in
one, easy-to-read location?