Tag: social network sites

LinkedIn and Facebook Are Different (For Me)

by on Aug.25, 2012, under general

@mstem clued me in to LinkedIn’s new “InMaps” feature, which allows you to visualize your LinkedIn network:

Most striking to me was how my LinkedIn network differs topographically from my Facebook network, generated a year or so ago by the Nexus application:

For most people, social network sites are constituted and animated by the social networks which preexist them in the physical world. The sites themselves merely shape the contours of these networks as they are represented in those spaces. Fascinating for me to see visually what I already new intuitively: that despite both being “social network sites”, LinkedIn and Facebook are very socially for me.

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Some thoughts about thoughts by danah boyd on Facebook

by on May.15, 2010, under general

danah boyd – the goddess of all things social media – has had a couple of really good posts about Facebook privacy in the last few days, posts that are definitely worth reading and thinking about.

First, in “Radical Transparency”, danah brings up a really great point that had not occurred to me before: that the transparency Facebook encourages in its users does not align with the lack of transparency of Facebook’s counterintuitive design:

Over and over again, I find that people’s mental model of who can see what doesn’t match up with reality. People think “everyone” includes everyone who searches for them on Facebook. They never imagine that “everyone” includes every third party sucking up data for goddess only knows what purpose. They think that if they lock down everything in the settings that they see, that they’re completely locked down. They don’t get that their friends lists, interests, likes, primary photo, affiliations, and other content is publicly accessible.

If Facebook wanted radical transparency, they could communicate to users every single person and entity who can see their content. They could notify then when the content is accessed by a partner. They could show them who all is included in “friends-of-friends” (or at least a number of people). They hide behind lists because people’s abstractions allow them to share more. When people think “friends-of-friends” they don’t think about all of the types of people that their friends might link to; they think of the people that their friends would bring to a dinner party if they were to host it. When they think of everyone, they think of individual people who might have an interest in them, not 3rd party services who want to monetize or redistribute their data. Users have no sense of how their data is being used and Facebook is not radically transparent about what that data is used for. Quite the opposite. Convolution works. It keeps the press out.

Emphasis mine. And this is the key here. I talked a lot in Losing Face about how the counterintuitive design of Facebook stymies and waylays privacy practices by preventing people from appreciating the consequences of their actions. And danah is absolutely correct that Facebook is deceitful and unethical in demanding radical transparency of its users while not practicing it themselves.

In a followup, “Facebook is a utility; utilities get regulated”, danah points out that Facebook markets itself as a social utility and IS a utility in the most basic sense of the term, but that we regulate utilities precisely because they wield such control over our lives:

Your gut reaction might be to tell me that Facebook is not a utility. You’re wrong. People’s language reflects that people are depending on Facebook just like they depended on the Internet a decade ago. Facebook may not be at the scale of the Internet (or the Internet at the scale of electricity), but that doesn’t mean that it’s not angling to be a utility or quickly becoming one. Don’t forget: we spent how many years being told that the Internet wasn’t a utility, wasn’t a necessity… now we’re spending what kind of money trying to get universal broadband out there without pissing off the monopolistic beasts because we like to pretend that choice and utility can sit easily together. And because we’re afraid to regulate.

If Facebook is a utility – and I strongly believe it is – the handful of people who are building cabins in the woods to get away from the evil utility companies are irrelevant in light of all of the people who will suck up and deal with the utility to live in the city. This is going to come down to regulation, whether we like it or not.

Emphasis mine, again. This is another point I discuss in “Losing Face” – Facebook is anticompetitive. Social network sites are complementary, not substitute, services. The network effects are keeping people there, not the quality of the service, and that’s the functional (if not legal) definition of a monopoly.

As a historical footnote, this question (of whether Facebook is a monopoly) was the first thing Ethan Katsh (my thesis advisor) and I talked about doing for the thesis project that eventually ended up being “Saving Face.” We ended up deciding to do privacy rather than monopoly because when the Friends Lists came out I thought it would be cool to explore the idea of contextual integrity and Friends Lists. It obviously expanded from there, and I think it’s gone interesting places, and I’m very proud.

But frankly, the monopoly question may end up being the really important question in the long one. And it may be our best hope.

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