How Facebook Is Making Friending Obsolete

FacebookJulia Angwin explains why you should pay attention to those new Facebook privacy settings before your status updates show up in Google search results, for the Wall Street Journal:

Friending wasn’t used as a verb until about five years ago, when social networks such as Friendster, MySpace and Facebook burst onto the scene.

Suddenly, our friends were something even better – an audience. If blogging felt like shouting into the void, posting updates on a social network felt more like an intimate conversation among friends at a pub.

Inevitably, as our list of friends grew to encompass acquaintances, friends of friends and the girl who sat behind us in seventh-grade homeroom, online friendships became devalued.

Suddenly, we knew as much about the lives of our distant acquaintances as we did about the lives of our intimates – what they’d had for dinner, how they felt about Tiger Woods and so on.

Enter Twitter with a solution: no friends, just followers. These one-way relationships were easier to manage – no more annoying decisions about whether to give your ex-boyfriend access to your photos, no more fussing over who could see your employment and contact information.

Twitter’s updates were also easily searchable on the Web, forcing users to be somewhat thoughtful about their posts. The intimate conversation became a talent show, a challenge to prove your intellectual prowess in 140 characters or less.

This fall, Twitter turned its popularity into dollars, inking lucrative deals to allow its users’ tweets to be broadcast via search algorithms on Google and Bing.

Soon, Facebook followed suit with deals to distribute certain real-time data to Google and Bing. (Recall that despite being the fifth most popular Web site in the world, Facebook is barely profitable.) Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt says no money changed hands in the deals but says there was “probably an exchange of value.”

Just one catch: Facebook had just “exchanged” to Google and Microsoft something that didn’t exist.

The vast majority of Facebook users restrict updates to their friends, and do not expect those updates to appear in public search results. (In fact, many people restrict their Facebook profile from appearing at all in search results).

So Facebook had little content to provide to Google’s and Bing’s real-time search results. When Google’s real-time search launched earlier this month, its results were primarily filled with Twitter updates.

Coincidentally, Facebook presented its 350 million members with a new default privacy setting last week. For most people, the new suggested settings would open their Facebook updates and information to the entire world. Mr. Schnitt says the new privacy suggestions are an acknowledgement of “the way we think the world is going.” …

[continues in the Wall Street Journal]

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