Two milestone Facebook products

By Anne Collier

Facebook announced two significant new products today (Oct. 6) – not the privacy-feature tweaks and redesigns users have become accustomed to and not like Places, which had us all scrambling to work out the privacy and safety implications (here‘s what I blogged about on that).

Your data download

The first pushes right past Facebook’s claim that you own the content you put in the site to delivering it on a digital silver platter – “everything you’ve ever posted on Facebook and all your correspondences with friends: your messages, Wall posts, photos, status updates and profile information,” according to a post from CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the site’s blog. That also includes photos in which you’re tagged, Facebook said in a conversation with its Safety Advisory Board (, which I co-direct, is a member). “After you pass some security checks,” writes the Washington Post’s Rob Pegararo, “you’ll get a compressed .zip file on your desktop, which you can extract to peruse its contents in a Web browser. This is an enormously important change for Facebook and its users.” If you want to write your autobiography (and you’ve been a Facebook user for a significant chunk of your life), this is a great resource. It will be a more complete record than a personal journal, even, because it’s as multimedia as your FB use is (but, hmm, can’t imagine this would ever replace collections of love letters and other personal correspondence some people still have and maintain).

Off the main grid: Groups

The second new product is Groups. It may sound like just another feature, but this is different. Groups is the first feature that’s completely separate from Facebook’s main grid. These are private, vertical-interest spaces (think virtual book club, hockey team parents group, or running club) with many of the same social tools of the main FB grid, but having their own customizable settings – no wading through a swamp of settings applied to everything else, thinking about the implications for use of yet another feature. When you set one up, you’re the administrator. You sign up the members. They can add members, too, but you can remove them. Administrators will want to watch the membership, probably, but – like “real world” clubs and groups – membership invitations are usually based on consensus and ground rules members establish. That’s the idea, anyway. But it does make sense that – because most FB life is grounded in real life, where club members are typically accountable to their clubs – so it would go with FB Groups. No guarantees that ne’er-do-wells wouldn’t show up at the party, but administrators do have control if they pay attention and exercise it. If kids use Groups, parents may want to have conversations with them about administering their Groups wisely and kindly. [Groups might remind some users of the existing “lists” feature that “already lets users create subsets of their friends,” as the BBC reports, but that’s more a privacy feature for all your other Facebook activities and seems to be hard for users to understand, because “only about 5% of its 500 million users use it,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the BBC.]

More privacy control too

There are also some privacy upgrades in the works that Zuckerberg says gives users more control. One is a new apps “Dashboard” that shows you the permissions you’ve given the apps you use in the site and whatever they’re doing with your data. Another one, which I haven’t seen yet but heard Facebook executives describe, will put your sharing options right at the point of posting a comment, photo, update, etc. It’s front-burner privacy, which may cut down on impulsive posting a bit.

Related links

* I think the lede in the New York Times’s story about Groups – that “Facebook is trying to become a bit more like the real world” – reflects a widespread misconception that FB is something separate from real life. That’s just not what social-media research has found.
* USATODAY points out Zuckerberg’s belief that Groups will represent “a fundamental shift in how people use Facebook.
* Here’s Facebook’s blog post about Groups.

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