A single word, context, was the message in Facebook's briefing today. We liveblogged the event and are continuing to cover the aftermath. Worth noting in Mark Zuckerberg's presentation and Q&A was that it was easy to see how hard it is to gain a common context for how we view sharing. Meeting users' needs for privacy is a problem of context - what privacy means for each individual user and for the company itself - and Facebook is in a defining moment in its ability to address that.

"Facebook is not a solved problem," he said, and we agree.

People are Biggest Group

Zuckerberg shared how the site has changed over time, and he demonstrated several new privacy controls aimed at tightening sharing for users. Many things have changed in the short time that Facebook has been around: user sharing behaviors, platforms, government interaction, and regional expectations.

The company has big challenges, which it's learning about in real-time as the population of the site grows. Here are a few issues we see the company needing to address as the user base continues to increase.

  • Managing interests vs. pages. The company has evolved towards full pages being the shared items rather than lists or selections. This feels a lot more like the the Web as a whole, but is also harder to decode.
  • Considering the business needs of the company, it is ironic to hear Facebook cite communication as the primary issue in the privacy backlash. It's certainly something that's also being considered in the product and the corporate model. Perhaps the briefing today was a step in the direction of more open communication on all levels of the company. "Lot of changes at the same time, we didn't communicate as well as we need to," Zuckerberg said today.
  • Change is actually hard. Granular controls are double edge sword. If it's too hard to use, "controls" end up being anything but that. That's the rub in fixing a problem that needs constant attention and tuning.
  • Does the concept of privacy in data portability that Facebook wants to support change the value user data to advertising? Zuckerberg presented that case today. We'll have to wait and see to find out more about how opening the systems (including sharing) does or doesn't give Facebook more control.

One last thing mentioned today was that the company thinks of revenue second, and user experience first. This was presented as a unique opportunity fore the company in its ability to achieve such a high growth rate so quickly. In a way, this seems to be the hardest thing for users to put into context.

What would you do if you ran Facebook for a day?