Sunday, May 23, 2010

Has Facebook jumped the shark?

It's sad when something great, popular and wildly successful hits its moment of downturn—when it tries a little too hard, goes a little to far, or forgets the roots of what made it successful in the first place. It's hard to watch something after it has jumped the shark.

By now, most have heard about the dramatic changes that Facebook has made to its privacy settings and automated community pages. For a good overview, check out Andrew Careaga's blog post for summary with links to some scathing reviews of these changes.

Facebook became a mainstream social networking platform by providing a private portal for connecting friends and family. Its users became comfortable sharing the details of their lives on the internet by trusting a certain degree of privacy. It expanded its reach to organizations through fan pages, paving the way for affordable, targeted advertising opportunities for institutions of all sizes.

The changes Facebook has made in the past few weeks has frustrated users, developers and marketers alike. Protests advocating Facebook deactivation or abdication have proliferated in the blogosphere and in Facebook itself. So how are we to move forward from here?
  • When it comes to privacy: Remember the basics. For any personal profile connected to your name, remember that anything you post online has the potential to become public. Test your Facebook profile at or better yet, don't post anything that you don't want your employer, grandmother or a stalker to find out.
  • When it comes to "community" pages: Follow them and don't panic (at least not yet). I "liked" my institution's community page just to monitor its activity, and they're nowhere near as powerful as real organizational fan pages at this point. The updates don't post to my news feed, and the content is obviously automatically generated. I tried to submit the link to our official site a few weeks ago, but nothing has happened yet. These pages don't remotely resemble a community, they're clearly not authentic, and they work more as a search function for public Facebook updates. They have wreaked havoc for finding organization pages, but beyond that, I don't think they'll compete with real fan pages in the near future. 
  • When it comes to Facebook in general: Watch out for other options. These recent actions strongly indicate that Facebook has indeed jumped the shark. According to Information Week, Google searches on "how to quit Facebook" have spiked and many high-profile users have deleted their accounts. The Diaspora project promises to deliver a "privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network" by September 2010. The Noel-Levitz 2009 E-Expectation survey found that college-bound seniors have strong interest in private social communities for universities.