"Dear Grandma, would you like to come out to the bar with my friends and I for a drink tonight?"
Your grandmother is on Facebook now and Facebook introduced today a new way to invite all your "friends" on the site to an event. The way the tool works is the best example yet of how Facebook is moving in exactly the wrong direction with its new privacy settings. Facebook continues to implement features in a way that presumes all our contacts are in one big bucket, instead of recognizing that we want to communicate different things to different groups of people.
The company announced today that Events will now be publishable through the same Publisher tool that all your status messages are posted in. Unfortunately, that Publisher tool does not include the ability to limit access to event invitations (you have to go through the separate Events menu to do that) and the site's new emphasis on pushing all updates out to everyone never looked so shortsighted.
Last week Facebook acknowledged in a call with press that it really does want more people to be sharing more content outside their immediate friends and family with the whole of Facebook users. Prior to that acknowledgment we wrote about how a more accurate understanding of privacy on the web would respect peoples' desire to limit access to messages to the appropriate people in appropriate circumstances. In real life we talk about different things with different people, we don't default to a public broadcast of everything we have to say. That would be the best approach for a social network that says it prioritizes user control over privacy. Facebook is taking the opposite approach - making context-specific communication a "custom option" that few people are likely to take the time to find.
Default options in social software have consequences for human behavior and social interaction. Inch by inch a new texture of privacy is being created on Facebook; soon the path of least resistence will be for all of our content to flow out to everyone. Many users believe that's what Twitter is for - but Facebook is for communicating with known friends and family.
There's no better example of how inappropriate that can be than giving people an easy way to offer event invitations without making it easy to target those invitations only to the people you really want to invite. Today's announcement is just the latest indication that Facebook, big on talk about privacy, is actually moving in a direction that its privacy-minded users are unlikely to appreciate.