Category Archives: facebook

Facebook Privacy Debate Heats Up but do Users Really Care?

The controversy around Facebook’s announcements at the recent f8 developer conference has kicked into high gear, as first lawmakers and now consumer groups weigh in on the privacy implications of the social networking giant’s recent moves.

GigaOM reports that over 15 consumer groups have now filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission to to protest the unauthorized sharing of private information by the social networking Goliath.

Epic.org, one of the organizations that has filed the complaint has described gist of the complaint,

“…that Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law. The complaint states that changes to user profile information and the disclosure of user data to third parties without consent “violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations.””

At the heart of this firestorm is the “instant personalization” option that auto-opts in Facebook users into sharing their social graph with a few partners selected by Facebook, which according to GigaOM are  Microsoft’s Docs.com, Yelp and Pandora.

The Facebook experience has been described by some as bland and homogenized but the user response to these changes has been anything but unanimous. The responses vary from highly contentious to generally apathetic, depending on which of the following 5 categories, the user belongs to.

#1 Blissfully Ignorant users that belong to the “I Don’t Know, Don’t Care” group.

This group includes otherwise perfectly smart people, who have bought into the myth perpetuated by Facebook that all conversations on the site are “private” or “between friends”. This group doesn’t get what the fuss is all about and doesn’t have a point of view on the privacy debate. This group of users doesn’t care enough to educate itself because it firmly believes that the benefits of sharing far outweigh the costs/consequences from lack of privacy.

#2 The Pragmatists from “I Know, but Don’t Care” group.

I’ve come across scores of users who belong to this group and my friend, Dennis is one of them. He says,

“If I wanted privacy, I wouldn’t be sharing my information online. I know the information I share on Facebook is not private and I don’t care. Facebook is convenient and free, that’s all that matters to me.”

Those who belong to this segment don’t mind sharing information as long as they get something in return. Many within this group know better than to share anything personal or don’t think they have much to lose from the information they do share. This group is willing to give up their privacy in return for some perceived value so you probably won’t hear them complaining much or at all.

#3 This is a very familiar group – the Opportunists that are mostly concerned with “What’s in it for me?”

This user segment has the most to gain from this forced openness and probably the least to lose. This group includes businesses, news media, developers, celebrities, artists, and anyone who has a vested interest in seeing the users profile information being shared broadly and want to see their own social graph being indexed in search.

#4 Ambivalents or the “I Know but Not Sure if I Should Care” is the group that’s still on the fence.

This group may be a larger majority than some might suspect and has mixed feelings about the whole privacy debate. These users will take their cue from the “experts” and the lawmakers to determine the full implications of the Facebook changes. You can call this group, Facebook’s “swing constituency”, the one that can go either way and spell success or defeat for Facebook in this privacy debate.

#5 Last but not the least, the Activists belong to the “Keep Your Mittens off my Social Graph (and my privacy settings)” group.

This group is probably Facebook’s fiercest and most vocal critic. The users from this group wants choices, and want to ensure that users are aware of consequences of their decision so they can make an informed decision. I believe that the online world is a safer (if not better) place because of this group’s diligence because it forces sites like Facebook to think twice before forcing “openness” on the users. This is the group seems to be increasingly concerned with Facebook’s quest to dominate/control all social data. This group will not willingly give up the social graph debate without a fight and is likely to become part of advocacy groups that want to prevent any one site’s dominance of the web, especially Facebook.

Depending on which group you belong to, you may think Facebook’s move to a more “open social web” is the greatest gift to the online world or it’s a pact with the devil himself. Facebook’s model is based on users being open and sharing all their personal information, but this aggressive push for openness may backfire in ways that Facebook didn’t imagine.

Even, as I was opting out of the “personalization” option, the “are you sure” confirmation message was very clear in that, even if I opt out, my friends could share my “public” information to “enhance” their experience. Apparently, the only way to truly and completely opt out of sharing your social data on Facebook is to block all applications and/ore start ditching your “over-sharing” friends.

It’s not the vocal minority that Facebook should be most concerned about but rather the quiet ones. By forcing too many changes on its users, Facebook may have a passive rebellion on its hands where users are concerned enough to limit their use of the site and block what they share, which would make the social graph data mined from Facebook incomplete..and actually quite worthless.

What Facebook’s New Platform Means for your Business

The online world’s been buzzing about the bold announcements at Facebook’s third f8 developer conference yesterday, where Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg discussed his vision of the new social web and unrolled the next version of the Facebook platform.

While this conference was primarily aimed at developers, here are 3 announcements that have significant implications for businesses and users – Social Plugins, Open Graph protocol, and Graph API.

Social Plugins are the “like”/“recommend” buttons or widgets that allow users to share content from any site with their social network. Here’s the “like” button on Levis.com, which is one of the 30 launch partners along with Microsoft and CNN.com.

Levis.com

The Open Graph protocol is the rebranded Facebook Connect but “on steroids”. Developers using this protocol will enable users to “like” and “recommend” content anywhere on the internet as long as the Social Plugins  are enabled on that site.

This allows users to share information back to their Facebook social hub without ever leaving the page or website. Facebook claims that this will enable companies/website developers to,

“ integrate your web pages into a user’s social graph and also allows your pages to be seen across Facebook: in user profiles, within search results and in News Feed.”

This move brings users closer to the “semantic web” than ever before, where any website can automatically recognize the user and serve up relevant content without requiring multiple logins. With Open Graph, all information on user’s preferences and social graph is delivered directly to the website (from Facebook) so the users can effortlessly share and recommend their favorite products to their social network, all of which is great for marketing.

Graph API reflects Facebook’s push towards a more open social web and putting the onus back on the users to pro-actively manage their privacy settings but it remains to be seen how users feel about that responsibility once this is rolled out widely. Facebook is simplifying all its individual privacy permissions into one unified permission.

However, this convenience will come at a price – users may not have much control over how much of their data should be shared with an external site and how their data is being shared or used by those sites.

What adds some more complexity is that Facebook is asking their developers to have their own privacy policies which means that users will have to be diligent in reviewing the policy for every site where they have opted to share their data, it’s not Facebook’s responsibility.

“In addition, with explicit user consent, you can use their data for purposes beyond displaying it back to the user. However, you’ll now need to have your own privacy policy and enable users to delete all of their data from your app.”

Also, for company websites (where this is enabled), it’s not clear if there’s any responsibility on part of the company to safeguard the user information, given there is personal data flowing between Facebook and other sites, which raises some privacy concerns.

These social plugins don’t provide option to “unlike” or share negative reviews of products, which is great for marketers, not so good for consumers. I believe this will complement rather than replace the existing reviews/ratings feature which are widely implemented on most retail sites.

This move also strengthens Facebook’s control over any and all social data, which will reside on Facebook hub not on the company’s website so if you’re a business, you will be dependent on Facebook for access to that social data.

Some additional great news for businesses is that Facebook will be able to provide analytics on their users’ social behavior, which would help in more targeted marketing. However, this move towards “social web” makes Facebook the de facto owner of all social data on these users and could potentially charge for access to this data in the future. This is a bit scary and as MG Siegler points out,

“that’s a lot of power for a still-private company to have.”

Overall, this is a game changing move for Facebook, which is already nearing a formidable 500million visitors per month, according to ComScore. But as they say the Devil is in the details and many of the questions/concerns will be hopefully addressed as this becomes widely deployed.

Here are some great write ups, if you want to learn more:

Is Advertising on Facebook Really Effective?

eMarketer has predicted a 39% increase in advertising spend on Facebook for 2010.  The popularity of advertising on social networks is primarily based on the notion that sites like Facebook  have a great deal of data on their users and this information can be exploited to deliver highly targeted ads to its huge user base. In theory, it makes a great deal of sense. Afterall, users are going crazy and sharing every little detail of their personal lives on these sites so why not leverage that information for marketing to them? In fact, Facebook goes on to claim that businesses should advertise on the site because:

“People treat Facebook as an authentic part of their lives, so you can be sure you are connecting with real people with real interest in your products.”

If that’s true, it’s absolutely baffling why the site serves up inane and irrelevant ads when you browse through it. Take a look at the ads on these 2 fan pages – Microsoft and BMW. You’ll notice that ads on the right have no relation to the content on these fan pages. One’s pitching designer handbags (never mind that I am looking at a software fan page) and the other one serves up  a list of ads with the only unifying theme being they all have pictures of women (Did I mention that I am a woman?! How clever of them to figure that out).

 Microsoft Fan Page

 

BMW Fan Page

As if those 2 examples weren’t enlightening enough, the ads on the Harvard Business Review fan page are just mind-boggling. I am baffled as to the connection between HBR and pets. And no, there’s no information in my Facebook profile about my imaginary or real pets.

One would think there are advertisers in similar or related categories who would be interested in marketing to the same audience but apparently, that’s not the case on Facebook. Of course, one can just blame the clueless advertisers who don’t know how to optimize their targeting but when you look at the target filters Facebook offers, you soon realize their limitations. The site says you can,

“Target your exact audience with demographic and psychographic filters about real people.”

I am a “real” person, a female of “certain age” who also happens to be interested in luxury cars and operating systems (gasp!). Under Facebook’s current ad model, no matter which page/group I am on, it only serves up ads based on my profile. As an user, it’s annoying but as an advertiser, I would be very concerned about displaying ads to an uninterested audience and with zero context.

So here’s my theory: Facebook either has a very low inventory of ads and that’s why they cycle through the limited number of available but irrelevant ads or the ad targeting model is fundamentally flawed. In either case, I seriously doubt that advertising on Facebook is any more effective  than other advertising options like paid search or contextual ads on traditional sites.

I’ll try to get some data from businesses who’re currently advertising on Facebook and post the findings here as a follow up. If you want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment below.

Is Web 2.0 Over?

This morning, I saw what seems like a scam contest on “RIP Web 2.0″ that’s driving traffic to my blog for no apparent reason, while I am still baffled by it, the notion of “Web 2.0 is over” got me thinking.  

It reminded me of a conversation I had with a blogger from the SF Bay Area at the Web 2.0 Expo recently. He proclaimed that “Web 2.0 is over and it’s time to move on.” and went on to say “It was an era and I doubt they’ll have this conference next year.”

Later that day, as I was noodling on what he said, I ran into Robert Scoble. So I asked him – Do you think Web 2.0 is over? What he said was very illuminating, “Until Best Buy puts people on its website, we’ve barely scratched the surface of Web 2.0.” You can read more of Scoble’s thoughts on his blog.

He brought up a great point, while innovators and early adopters who are focused on the technology and are clamoring to move on, one has to question if the true potential of this era has been realized.

Later on at the same conference, Jeremiah Owyang from Forrester, shared an interesting insight that he has seen companies turning off the commenting feature on their blogs. Which means that even companies who claim to be all over Web 2.0 and related social technologies aren’t ready to embrace the participation or openness that Web 2.0 purportedly is all about.

Web 2.0 is a phrase that seemed to have caught on in early 2000s O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference . According to Wikipedia,

“Tim O’Reilly states Web 2.0 is a set of economic, social, and technology trends that collectively form the basis for the next generation of the Internet-a more mature, distinctive medium characterized by user participation, openness, and network effects. (O’Reilly Radar,Principles and Best Practices, 2007)”

 Web 2.0 has manifested itself in the form of blogs, social networks, social sharing tools, etc. but now even O’Reilly has moved on to the next Web ie. Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web. At a blogger roundtable, O’Reilly was asked by a blogger, “What is the Semantic Web?” O’Reilly got up and said “This is Tim O’Reilly” and he took off his badge, “This is Tim O’Reilly”, highlighting a more intelligent web that will be able to provide context no matter where we are on the web.

The Semantic Web isn’t a new concept, it’s about intelligence built into the web (or rather the machines underlying the web) and Tim Berners-Lee already gave us a sneak peak into the future way back in the 1990s.  But it seems that the technologies and momentum to make Semantic Web part of our everyday web experience are finally available now.  

So what does that mean for Web 2.0? No matter what you want to call it, one thing is for sure, we are moving towards a more intelligent web experience and that’s a good thing.

That being said, I’ll believe that Web 2.0 is over, when I see social-sharing features become as ubiquitous as the websites themselves. I’ll believe it, when companies are able to use these social technologies to harness the knowledge embedded across their global employee base and seamlessly share the data across their organizations. In other words, when the “human” element becomes more important than the underlying technologies and tools. We’re getting there, but we are not there yet. Until then, it’s just hype – Web 2.o hype replaced by Web 3.0 hype.

Btw, I confirmed with show organizers that the Web 2.0 Conference is still on for next year. Janetti Chon from the Web 2.0 said that,

“We’re definitely having a Web 2.0 Expo again, our dates for NY and SF 2010 are already confirmed.”

And no, I didn’t ask if they’re planning to change the name to Web 3.0 :)

Can you be a social media expert without tweeting or blogging?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about a social media ‘expert’ who doesn’t tweet or blog, which got me thinking – How important is it for the social media ‘experts’ to actually get their hands dirty?

Tom Foremski has touched on the same issue in his post , ‘Can you advise on social media if you don’t use it?’

Foremski talks about a PR person whom he met recently, who doesn’t blog or tweet but advises clients on social media and claims that,

… she knows all about Facebook and Twitter and blogging even though she doesn’t blog or leave comments, she isn’t on Facebook, and doesn’t have a Twitter account.

It seems that just by the virtue of being in a customer-facing and/or web-related role, professionals in communication, PR, marketing, and SEO have been thrust onto the social media scene. But chances are that while their clients look to them for guidance on how to navigate this new space, these folks are also scrambling to catch up and are probably just as clueless as their clients.

I agree with Foremski that if you’re supposed to be an expert in ‘social’ media, can you really be credible if you aren’t out there being..um.. social?! There are definite advantages to getting your hands dirty. It gives one more credibility with clients and helps reassure them that the advice they’re getting  is based on experience, not just theory. It also provides a good understanding about what works and what doesn’t in the social media space, without relying on someone else’s opinion. 

That being said, blogging or tweeting by itself doesn’t make one an expert in social media. There are plenty of folks who have a huge following on social media sites, but not many of them are qualified to advise anyone on social media. And lately, everyone has a blog so that’s not a great indicator of social media expertise either. This great cartoon shared by Mark Evans, strikes a chord as everyone claims to be a social media expert these days. 

I think it’s irrelevant whether these ‘experts’ learn about social media tools and sites by using them or researching them. What’s more important is that folks who are responsible for advising their clients on social media aren’t married to a single tool or site. These professionals need to be objective and tool/site-agnostic so they can recommend the right tools for their clients, even if they aren’t experts in using it. There’s nothing worse than a so-called expert who recommends a specific social site or tool because that’s the only one they are familiar with.

At end of the day, clients aren’t just paying for someone’s expertise in social media but rather their expertise in how to use social media to help their business.