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Facebook is closed, and it should stay that way

October 2, 2007

Facebook privacy

One of the things that I love about social networking (and my social network of choice, Facebook) is that no matter how seldom you actually interact with your “friends” either online or in the real world, you always feel that they are present in your life and you in theirs. The constant updates (moderated by the option to choose how often to actually check them or which ones to pay attention to) referring to various states of mind, recent trips, new employment, or just a new photo album that shows a quick glimpse of your lives keeps you connected, abreast of the latest developments in each other’s worlds.

To my surprise and delight, I recently came across a discussion of this very same feeling, where the phenomenon was termed “ambient intimacy”. This beautifully descriptive name illustrates “being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible…It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like.” I think that this is the very thing that makes online social networking so addictive for me, as I’m sure it is for many others as well, whose lives have made them too busy, or taken them too far away to be able to keep up with everyone they wish were a daily part of their lives.

Unlike other social networks like Twitter and Flickr, however, Facebook is a place where people share a lot of information about themselves. A place they trust and where they feel comfortable enough to engage in this “ambient intimacy” even more intimately than in other places. So I have to speak out against the recent condemnation of Facebook as a “walled garden” and the “new AOL”, and that its new platform is a step back for the internet.

First off, I don’t disagree. Facebook is closed. But for me, the fact that it is “closed”, that our profiles are not indexed in search engines, that I can keep my personal information out of the eyes of complete, random strangers, and feel pretty confident about interacting with my friends is extremely important and something that helps keep Facebook a safer and more trusting environment.

Now although some may say that this privacy is bad for the Internet and that, eventually Facebook will cave under the pressure of open networks and may (and should) change, I have to completely disagree. Yes, there are many open websites that can do everything Facebook can (although it’s pretty convenient to have them all in one place, isn’t it?), and yes, it must be very frustrating as a developer to have to make applications that are exclusively for only one platform. Perhaps there is a better way to fix that situation, but I don’t think that opening up Facebook is the answer. The whole point, for me at least, is that Facebook is closed. That is the value it holds for me. If I want my information, content, updates to be available to the world, I’ll use Twitter, Flickr, etc. (which, in fact, I do use).

But if Facebook has been so popular and continues to grow so quickly (just look at these impressive international numbers), then obviously, people like what it has to offer. Sometimes you don’t want to share yourself with the whole world. And I think that there will (and should) always be a place for those people in the social networking arena. Because sometimes, you just want to have a place online where you can connect and keep up with people you know, privately.

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