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Facebook tearing down its walls?

Posted on 26 June 2009 at 4:41 am in Musings.

According to this report, Facebook is about to make a dramatic change — a far more dramatic decision than the two controversial user-interface changes of the past year. Updates will soon be public by default, and searchable ala Twitter. The user will have to specify through a drop-down mechanism if they want their actions to be private.

This is clearly another move (along this Spring’s change to the User Interface and the addition of Vanity URLs) towards the functionality of Twitter. Within Twitter, users can search across the medium for trending topics, terms, or people with ease; historically, Facebook is built with walls to protect networks of friends.

Facebook’s obsession with moving in on Twitter’s territory is puzzling. It’s true that the small (and profitless) start-up has gotten a lot of publicity lately, both for its celebrity users and its ability to quickly spread news from all parts of the globe (Iranian protests in June, Mumbai attack last year). But Facebook’s growth is predicated on different strengths: private networks, photo albums, “real” people (empasizing real names over user names, for instance). Twitter doesn’t threaten any of those strengths.

Because of its greater security, far more personal information is included on facebook pages than Twitter. As Facebook is nothing without this user-generated content, it’s an open question if breaking down those defensive walls (and infuriating its persnickety users) is a good idea. Concerns over privacy are the #1 cited concern about Facebook, and this move seems to be ignoring that issue entirely.

I wonder if Facebook is taking one step too far away from what made it work, and if this will create an opening for another social network to take its place, as Myspace supplanted Friendster and Facebook supplanted Myspace.