We argued that the site remains fundamentally closed because outside developers can't access the full stream of all users' activity and information due to limiting privacy controls and friend connections. A very interesting debate broke out in the comments on our post and it makes us wonder about the following question. Do people really want Facebook to open up or do they prefer it to remain by default private?Facebook made a big move today to open up user activity streams to outside applications and websites.
There are good arguments in favor of both keeping Facebook info private by default and opening it up by default. Which would you prefer?
Eric Marcoulier articulated two arguments well in favor of openness when he said today that, "FaceBook's Open Streams is a great step forward, but it's still authorization-based. Call me when someone can build 'Summize for FaceBook.' [Summize is now known as Search.Twitter.com] I don't care about privacy on FB (others feel same). I'm sure someday I'll be able to set my profile public and be a happy guy."
As the founder of a service that exists to spread data around (Gnip), Marcoulier no doubt is excited to think about all the mashups and analysis that could be done with Facebook data if it were more open.
That's not a typical response to this matter, we'd guess. Facebook is dramatically different from most other social networks because, by default, user data can only be seen by friends who have been given permission to see it. That means privacy for users and less access for developers.
There's something to be said in favor of privacy. The internet is chipping a whole lot of it away very quickly. Private communication can be more comfortable and free for many people because it implies that trust is present. If there were no private communication available online, that would be a disaster.
But, do you want Facebook to be private by default and continue putting such emphasis on privacy? Or, would you be happy with a little less privacy and a little more rapid communication and innovation built on top of your social network? Everyone knows their grocery store does nothing but sell addresses to advertisers when shopping activity is exposed to 3rd parties, but people expect cool new features from Facebook. They might be willing to be flexible in order to get them.
A middle ground might be to allow anonymous, aggregate analysis of user activity data and social connections. Outside parties could know not that you sent a message about being pregnant to your ex-boyfriend's mother on Facebook, for example, but could populate a database of conversations between people with certain traits, certain connections, and on certain keywords with their names removed. That might be unrealistic as well, we could see some partial form of that kind of data availability. That much is probably just a pipe dream!
Facebook is likely to announce support for inbound OpenID from other networks within the next few hours, probably at an event starting at 4pm PST. That's interesting, but it's not really important at all compared to this big question. What will be done with all this Facebook data? Anything? Are users willing to let things be done with it?