Friday, July 3, 2009

Facebook Privacy Controls Challenge Twitter??

In a move that may actually pass without a huge uproar, Facebook has begun testing new privacy options that will make the service pretty much just like Twitter, but only if you want it to be. Or so they say.

If these changes pass without a big user protest it would mark something of a return to normalcy for the service, which in the recent past has become globally-recognized for its ability to tiff users at seemingly every turn.

Once the changes--now in beta and not yet final--are complete, users will be able to decide who can see their Facebook posts on a post-by-post basis. The sounds like a chore, and may be if not implemented properly, but it also makes Facebook potentially much more flexible and useful than Twitter.

With the enhanced privacy controls, described by Facebook execs here and here, users will be able to select quite specifically--from everyone on the planet down to a single friend--who sees which posts.

Twitter makes no such allowances. Once you've accepted a follower, they see everything you Tweet. That aspect is part of what makes Twitter more like a news or announcements service and less a way to share information with only your close friends. That, and the 140-character message limitation, which Facebook lacks.

The new Facebook controls, as I understand them, would allow me to post links to blog posts like this one for everyone to see, while items of interest only to my ham radio friends would be visible only to a group of people that I've specifically selected.

Create enough groups and you could make Facebook publishing a pretty granular thing, while still maintaining a public face by posting to everyone. This could become complex, but only if you want to add lots of groups and sometimes forget to select the proper setting before sharing.

Reading Facebook's description of the planned changes, which include getting rid of the oh-so-useless regional networks, I can’t find anything that makes the hair on the back of my neck rise. That is an unusual experience with Facebook lately, so I'll have to go back and reread a few times.

Still, with the addition of friendly URLs (I am, and the forthcoming privacy changes, Facebook may become a better Twitter than Twitter as well as a better Facebook than Facebook is today.

Finally, a Facebook change I may not have to vote against.


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