Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cluttered Facebook Wall

Little do we realise that many of us are on social networking sites because of their “share” feature. We get to see --  and presumably benefit from -- what other people have shared --  like their thoughts, photos, videos, and links to interesting articles.

Mark Zuckerburg was very sure -- quite justifiably, in hindsight -- about our inclination to know about others, and to let others know about us. Just as Google is to Search, Facebook is to Share -- the premise many other networking sites have tweaked, customised and built upon, There are niche sharing sites such as for videos, photographs, travel info, websites, songs, books, worksheets, documents, you name it.

Each time FB fine tuned the share functionality, it courted controversy over cluttering of the wall and privacy issues So too with the latest offering of what is called “Frictionless Sharing”. It means, whenever you click the link of a FB partner app, it will show up on your wall. It could be an article that you read on Washington Post or a song you listened on Spotify. Users, of course, opt in or out of it, but the moot point is how many are aware of it.

Leave aside frictionless sharing. Take wall postings. There was this recent instance, when I saw on my wall, postings of K on S’s wall, when neither K nor S is my friend! More than my wall getting cluttered, why should I know what K is telling S? Since they are my office colleagues, I went up to them to check their privacy settings.

It turned out that S had set “Who can see Wall posts by others on your profile?” to “Friends of Friends”, while her own wall postings were visible only to her Friends. I was getting K’s postings (but not S’s) since S and I had mutual friends. Confusing? It is. No wonder, sharing norms are treading on privacy concerns.

Tagging pictures is another aspect where photographs become visible for people whom the original person never intended to. Notification of comments is also commonly perceived as an irritant.

This applies to not just FB but to all such networks. We tend to pick on FB since it uses the share functionality the most. Sharing in itself is nothing wrong, because that’s the way information is passed around. What should be in place are good filters, especially when it becomes more easy to share more stuff among more people.

To begin with, users must head to Privacy Settings (click on the little downward arrow beside “Home” on top right of the FB page) and spend some time learning how not only your privacy can be safe-guarded but also how other users’ privacy can be respected.

(This article was published in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

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