As Facebook has evolved from a social network designed for college students, towards the much larger audience of members it has today, increasingly it has become apparent that the original design needs some tweaking. The most obvious changes will start to be seen in the next few weeks, and were discussed with an group of bloggers at the end of May.
However there are a couple of other changes that are going to have an impact. The first has already produced some rumbles amongst the avid users, which is that they are going to get rid of network pages. Whenever discussions of Facebook pop up, network pages are one of the highlighted privacy issues with the initial settings. In the initial concept, your network was usually your institution, however for non-students your network is usually based on a geographic area, so there are network groups for London, Portsmouth and Plymouth to name three. The big problem is that firstly the networks are limited, so most people in the South-East of the UK end up being pointed at London, meaning that for groups like London, these are really big, with the London network being one of the biggest with a membership that even last July was heading for a million people. (See this CBC story bemoaning the fact that Toronto had lost the top spot as the largest network…) The big problem is that if you aren’t careful with your privacy settings, you can end up sharing rather a lot with hundreds of thousands of other network members. As a result, Facebook is taking out network pages pointing people towards the usually a lot smaller and more targeted groups, bringing people together through shared interests rather than geography.
The other big change that is coming is going to be a pretty fundamental change in the way the Facebook Platform operates. Currently, in order to use an application, a Facebook user has to install it, even if they only want to take a look at what it does. The usual routine is that a friend on Facebook invites you to use an application, at which point it will ask for permission to install, and also have access to all your information. In addition it usually requires permission to stick a box on your profile page, and dump stories into your news feeds. If you then decided you don’t want to use an application, you then have to actively go to the applications page find it and remove it, something that many people don’t actually do – one of my friends currently has over one hundred and fifty applications installed on their profile. The big change that is coming now is that users will no longer need to install an application to use it, a move that is part of the ongoing process to cut down on applications that effectively spam a users friends in order to boost application installation metrics. Applications are going to be relegated to a special tab away from the main profile, and in future to add an application to this tab will require the user to make a conscious decision to install it there, over and above the regular use of an application. Having said that, as the Techcrunch article points out this move isn’t going to affect existing applications nearly so much as it will affect new ones – my friend with their one hundred and fifty applications will automatically have all the applications shifted over when the profiles change, so applications that have spammed their way up the metrics will stay where they are.
Interestingly, whilst I’ve seen a lot of complaint – including petitions – amongst certain friends over the loss of networks, there has been no discussion of perhaps the bigger change to how applications will work – I guess that will come when the change becomes obvious…