Is Facebook A Fad?

picture-1.pngThe video is now up from [Canadian public television station] TVO’s current affairs program, The Agenda‘s panel discussion of the future of Facebook that I participated in the other night with 4 other guests. For the first half I listened along thinking “everyone’s got something interesting to say,” but toward the end there Om Malik pulled out the old “people socialize online because they are socially awkward and don’t want to talk to people face-to-face” canard and I couldn’t help but leap into action to combat caricature with evidence. Wind me up and watch me go.

It was a real hoot recording this. I went to Kansas City Public Television, where I sat alone at a table on a little stagey kind of thing, with a cameraman (who was obscured by his massive camera) and an engineer (hiding behind a little wall behind me) with bright lights beaming down on me. Given that, I was surprised how fully I got caught up in the discussion. When it ended, the camera man and the engineer continued discussing the topic with me, which I thought was a neat testament to how engaging the discussion was. The whole thing was a class operation start to finish.

There were several things I would have liked to have said if it had been a longer discussion, like about the need to differentiate between privacy in terms of what we show others on our facebook pages and privacy in terms of what information facebook collects about us behind the scene for their own use (which is getting creepier by the day), and about the fact that there are privacy controls for the former that people can use (so they could, for instance, opt out of being google indexed on facebook), even if research shows that they rarely do use them. Jesse Hirsch makes a point in the discussion about the basic literacy skills needed to understand how facebook affects one’s privacy that’s important and deserved some elaboration.

So if you’re interested in a high quality half hour discussion of the question, enjoy the video [you have to click the blue 'Is Facebook A Fad' tab next to Steven Pinker]. The video could be very useful for teaching purposes too — I know I’ll be showing it when I teach social networks in my Communication on the Internet course in the next 2 weeks.

Update: The video will only stream for 10 days. If you yearn for your own personal copy, subscribe to the podcast here and you can download it.

Comments (11) to “Is Facebook A Fad?”

  1. A good overview of the show, Nancy — I enjoyed doing it as well, and thought you did a great job of putting Om in his place :-)

  2. I enjoyed the panel as well. It was nice to have so much time – 32 minutes is an eternity in TV-land! – to talk about FB.

    cheers, Mark

  3. “the need to differentiate between privacy in terms of what we show others on our facebook pages and privacy in terms of what information facebook collects about us behind the scene for their own use (which is getting creepier by the day)”

    yes, indeed.

    here’s a way to disable the Beacon reporting:

  4. Thanks for posting that link, Mike, I had installed it myself earlier today after reading about it on Fred Stutzman’s blog. I know I don’t want Facebook observing what I buy on Amazon. Yikes.

    Also, Mike Miner who produced this show has blogged about it on his blog (and oh, the flattery!), and so has fellow panelist Mark Evans whose link you can find in comment #2 above.

  5. Great program, and great use of stats at the end!

  6. I can’t seem to subscribe to the podcast from the US. Does anyone have a copy of the video? I’d love to be able to use (portions of) it in class!

  7. Thanks so much for the link! That was a really interesting program–and you were great! I do wish y’all could have spent more time on the privacy issues. Coming from LJ and complete friendslock, I’m still kind of amazed as to how public much of the web is and, more importantly, how little most people seem to care.

    I’m a control freak, and I like the way I can control who sees what and, mostly, what gets archived. But as you point out, few seem to care or choose to opt out. I’m not sure if this is a function of my age (i.e., when I usenet search myself, I see stupid emails from 15 years ago, which is definitely a reminder that nothing ever dies online : ) or if my paranoia is just silly, because in the information glut, the fact that a page is saved doesn’t mean anyone will ever access it…

    Anyway, I’m totally OT here, because I just can’t seem to get the hang of social networking sites and am happily an online dinosaur on LJ…but I love the work so many of you are doing and it’s great to see serious studies–and statistics :)

  8. Hi Nancy, thanks for the very interestig report.

    I’ve been playing with Facebook lately (more on this and why there), and I’m being very reluctant on using it as it clearly looks to me as a personal information vacuum cleaner (and I see my lil’ cousins jumping both feet on it… sheeshh…).

    Thanks to your article I only just realised that FB _does_ offer privacy options, but I was looking in the wrong place (in the profile editor).
    OK for the first side of privacy you quote. Now on the second: could you give us pointers on the creepy things FB does with its users data ?

    Many thanks.

  9. Bear in mind Facebook was started as a social networking site for Ivy League (and select) universities. You know, to post pictures of drunken debauchery. I don’t understand why working professionals have any need for Facebook. Especially people in their 30’s and 40’s (and 50’s?!).

    Also the ads don’t seem to be very relevant at least as of now.

  10. Overpriced: Yes on the original audience – really important to remember as it brings with it a lot of cultural assumptions that pervade facebook. that said, the facebook culture is rapidly evolving so that what it began as becomes less and less relevant as new users who don’t care come on and reshape it (I’m reminded a bit of the internet connecting to aol in 1994/1995 and how usenet cultures were radically transformed by these new people who didn’t care what the site had always been before). The site’s legacy of the elite college population though gives the site an upward mobility tint (see danah boyd’s notorious essay on this and also Eszter Hargattai’s work in the new Journal of Computer Mediated Communication)that can be quite appealing to professionals, especially given how much of their own networks are already on there.

    mll: Hard to know what FB does. They say they use it to tailor ads to us, though note overpriced designer’s blog post showing how hilariously badly they’re targeted (at least now). The new “beacon” program works with affiliate sites so that when you are active on those sites, it beams messages back to facebook so that they can broadcast it to your friends. This is supposed to be some kind of groovy viral advertising thing or something. You can decline sending out the message, but at this point it’s tricky to stop the affiliate sites from telling fb what you’re doing elsewhere on the web. Icky. The main thing is that we just don’t know what all FB is going to do with all that data about not just what we do on Facebook but also what we do elsewhere on the internet. Targeting ads is obviously a big piece, and they say they’ll “never sell” our data, but it’s a helluva lot of data, and we have very little, if any, control over what’s done with it once they have it.

  11. Just watched the show and thank you for your thoughtful comments and insight into the fb universe. I was a little struck by the fellow who was happy to have connected with his grade-school friends. From time to time I pride myself on not keeping up with the grade-school friends, just because I don’t think I have that much to say to them anymore. Weird to consider a system that keeps these people popping up in your life.