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The Facebook factor

October 10, 2012
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Facebook did it again!

The world’s social networking giant rolled out another series of changes that freaked out privacy advocates, caused a tidal wave of internet buzz and just plain old confused many users. Why does Facebook feel compelled to keep changing, changing, changing their site? If your first thought is that founder Mark Zuckerberg and team drink a lot of Red Bull, you’re not digging deeply enough. The answer lies not in the restlessness of Mark Zuckerberg but, rather, his brilliance.

A core principal of human behavior is that people get bored with the same old stuff. Facebook’s worst nightmare is not a nimble competitor. It’s that we all just get tired of it. Then we might just move on. It may seem like an incredible proposition given the large user base, but Facebook predecessor MySpace paid exactly this price.

There is another well-established principal of human behavior that can be used to combat the risk of boredom: change. Change is the enemy of Boredom. And Boredom is the enemy of Facebook. And so an alignment was made -- Change and Facebook friended each other some time ago. Facebook wants us to stay engaged and to go progressively deeper in sharing the data of our lives. Because of that, you can also expect a steady current of change to keep us coming back.

One of Facebook's largest privacy snafus of late was an offshoot of change. Facebook changed the way information is presented on user “Timelines.” Literally overnight, old posts that friends made years earlier to the walls of other friends popped up on the “Timeline” chronology of an individual’s activity. Even though these were wall posts, not private messages revealed, many jumped to the conclusion that their private Facebook messages were now being exposed to the world. So they shouted in outrage, the media picked it up and for a day or two it was reported as fact -- Facebook was randomly sharing private messages and sprinkling them across users walls for all the world to see!

Facebook came out gunning to set the record straight -- insisting that they had only “re-exposed” old public wall posts and not gutted the privacy that users expect of their private messages. Facebook users across the world breathed a sigh of relief that their innermost thoughts, romances, gossip or gripes remained private and only between the intended friends!

But it did raise the question how much can you count on Facebook to treat your data tomorrow the way it is treated today? Are there more curve balls ahead? There may be a clue in the Facebook “Data Use Policy” that you agreed to when you first made your Facebook account: “Granting us this permission not only allows us to provide Facebook as it exists today, but it also allows us to provide you with innovative features and services we develop in the future that use the information we receive about you in new ways.”

The one thing you can most count on about Facebook, even more so than the fact that your Grandma might see the pictures your fraternity buddy posted from that spring break trip, is that Mark Zuckerberg loves change -- and there’s more to come.

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