September 07, 2007

Facebook: Open All Hours

Now I would have expected somebody to have beaten me to this by a long way, but it seems to have sneaked by WB unnoticed that Facebook is opening its doors to Google, and with it taking the last bastion of “privacy” from the site.

Facebook, of course, started out as a North American collegiate networking site, which then expanded to international students. It then opened it doors to the general public, but during all this kept the spiders out, so that what was in Facebook could only be tracked down by logged-in Facebook users.

But now Facebook is directly pitching itself against major rivals like MySpace and Bebo. The two target audiences are arguably significantly different – potentially there could be a continuous migration from Bebo to MySpace to Facebook with age, but as those who despair at the state of SPG of schoolchildren will know the “infiltration” of the MySpace userbase onto Facebook is changing the face of the site.

Of course, being able to be tracked down by Google raises several issues, although I can leave talking about “infringement of privacy” and “protection of personal data” and stuff like that to others.

I reckon Facebook has left a niche in the market behind, which it used to fill. By targeting collegiate students and not allowing anyone else in, it very powerfully segmented a userbase who had intent to procrastinate. But by going open in this way, could Facebook be leaving their niche behind for somebody else to fill? Another potential scenario is that “even more ‘grown up’” sites like Linked-In could benefit with a Facebook userbase dissatisfied with the opening out of the site.

But if it make Facebook Inc more money, then why should they worry about this?


- 22 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. Mathew Mannion

    I don’t see why anyone cares – the only thing indexed by Google is your name, profile picture and networks.

    08 Sep 2007, 07:44

  2. I agree with Mat, and if you set your privacy settings then not even those. My facebook has the big announcement text at the top of my home page but then informs me it doesn’t affect me because I’m not publicly searchable :)

    08 Sep 2007, 13:19

  3. In some ways I agree it’s a shame taht facebook has lost its university-only niche. Then again they probably realised that as their current users got older and graduated in order for them to keep using facebook it would have to become more relevant to their lies post-university. Thus the need for adding regional networks and company networks etc.

    08 Sep 2007, 13:20

  4. the need for adding regional networks and company networks etc

    The main problem I actually have with this is that the slight sense of security disappeared when that happened. With university and company networks, accounts were linked to real people, by using official email addresses (or so I liked to think). Now, anyone can join with any email address, thus allowing for aliases and others, making the initial semi-secure social network into a schizophrenic’s dream.

    09 Sep 2007, 00:38

  5. Mathew Mannion

    But why would you ever add someone or allow someone to view your profile who you didn’t already know in at least some shape or form? Unless people are maliciously going around signing up as your friends, there should be no problem with random people signing up simply because Facebook is not designed as a platform to make friends, it’s designed to be able to keep in touch with the ones you already have and share events, photographs etc.

    Despite some reservations in principle with allowing outsiders in, it’s allowed people who’ve signed up after they graduated and a lot of people from my old school before I went to Uni to get back in touch with me, and that’s a Good Thing.

    09 Sep 2007, 10:11

  6. That’s the only reason I ever made it to Facebook in the first place, it opened its doors to the UK Academic network after my intake had left university and not being armed with warwick.ac.uk email address couldn’t register and still join the network.

    As a matter of course I thumped the privacy settings up as soon as they were accessible, but I can think of plenty of reasons why people wouldn’t want to be tracked down by outsiders via Facebook. I think by opening the doors, it’s lost part of what made it so “special” (for want of a better term) and the fact it’s now a direct competitor is a sign of corporate objectives changing with golden carrots being dangled in front.

    09 Sep 2007, 15:08

  7. Robert Southgate

    That’s the only reason I ever made it to Facebook in the first place, it opened its doors to the UK Academic network after my intake had left university and not being armed with warwick.ac.uk email address couldn’t register and still join the network.

    Could you not have used an alumni.warwick address, would that not have worked as well?

    I agree though it was nice when Facebook had just started (albeit there was FA to do on it then) and was only for university members, then they brought colleges/schools in which I suppose isn’t quite so bad but once they opened it up to Joe Public it kind of lost its exclusiveness. But I suppose it at least then allows people who didn’t go to uni to get in touch with those that did. I’ve managed to find people on there who I haven’t seen since I left primary school.

    09 Sep 2007, 19:27

  8. Robert, as far as I am aware there are no alumni email addresses. So although Luke and I, among others, are alumni here we have to use un-warwick emails, as you lose access to those when you graduate. (Though there is a work-around at Warwick, as users actually have two email addresses theirname@warwick.ac.uk and the groupwise one, though I forget the details.)

    10 Sep 2007, 00:04

  9. One of them was our names (in my case lblackwell@...) and the other was my student code ID (in my case stuccj, derived from st for statistics, u for undergraduate and ccj for randomness). It does mean that people can let others use their “alternate” address to get into the Warwick network, but if you don’t have a willing volunteer you can’t get in. :(

    10 Sep 2007, 00:25

  10. Robert Southgate

    Oops, I forgot that its only been introduced for this year’s graduates (who can now get an @alumni.warwick.ac.uk when you join the WGA), although I assume anyone already part of the WGA can now get one.

    10 Sep 2007, 00:34

  11. Sue

    What does facebook offer that email and friendsreunited don’t? A friend of mine joined facebook last month at the request of her daughter who is on a round the world trip and said “You can look at my photos as I travel around, Mum.” But as my friend said to me “I could have done that via email.” We think there is a certain amount of exhibitionism involved, which can be a bad thing but not always.

    I have resumed contact with a few people through Friendsreunited but I have stayed in touch with many of my school and college friends anyway through letters and phone calls because that’s the only way we could do it then. I meet up with a lot of them regularly (I know I’m lucky that some of them live locally). So I think facebook would be superfluous in my case although I am intrigued by the concept and find the internet useful for finding information and invaluable for studying human behaviour. I find people fascinating and I hope my interest in them never wanes.

    10 Sep 2007, 07:15

  12. They can now? I should get investigating that. Thanks for the tip-off Robert!

    Sue – In order to send an email to somebody, you have to know what their email address is – something you can use Facebook (or FriendsReunited for that matter) to do. However, Facebook allows you to get back in touch with people for free, which (when I last checked) is not something that FR offered. At the risk of being ageist, I think FR is more successful with those who finished their school education before 1990, just because Facebook is “more modern”, by that its more of the MySpace era which is less attractive to “mature” students.

    Most of these social networking sites are very LOOK AT ME AREN’T I WONDERFUL anyway.

    10 Sep 2007, 12:34

  13. Anonymous

    Privacy -> Search -> Allow my public search listing to be indexed by external search engines -> Uncheck.

    Wow, that sure was tricky.

    10 Sep 2007, 18:11

  14. More info on the WGA email situation. It’s not actually an email address, it’s an email forwarding address. See here: http://www.wgaalumni.co.uk/warwickforward.html

    10 Sep 2007, 21:34

  15. Great, now if only I could log in to the bloody site I might be able to use it…

    10 Sep 2007, 21:59

  16. Luke, you may find that you need to set up a new WGA website login – I found that I did, even though the WGA already had my email address & member details.

    11 Sep 2007, 14:09

  17. It let me log in, though I feel I owe them money around now, I imagine they will write to me asking me to renew. I don’t think I set up a direct debit. Hmmm.

    11 Sep 2007, 20:55

  18. Sue

    Luke, I can’t remember paying anything to friendsreunited for years although I think I did pay something initially but I take your point about facebook looking more modern. I’m amazed at how many friends people have on there, I haven’t accumulated anywhere near that number.

    12 Sep 2007, 07:33

  19. Perhaps they don’t charge for it now, it’s been a while since I’ve looked.

    Be aware that most Facebook “friends” are at best loose acquaintances. In fact, the more “friends” you have on Facebook the fewer friends you tend to have in real life!

    12 Sep 2007, 13:01

  20. Sue

    Luke, I’m getting a bit worried about the amount of SPAM which is appearing on Warwick blogs. Strangely enough I read only today that SPAMMERS are getting more and more sophisticated but sadly this isn’t the case here, they seem to be getting more and more childish. I can understand someone SPAMMING if they have a legitimate message to get across but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case here, the message seems to be completely purile. I also read that a legitimate site would never link to a SPAM site and Yahoo (amongst others) are after the SPAMMERS. Good for them. Is there anything else that can be done about it? Peoples blogs are being sabotaged. I tried to get in touch with Mathew Mannion but I don’t know where he lives.

    21 Sep 2007, 23:28

  21. Mathew Mannion

    Unfortunately spam is a problem we can’t really work around. If you spot any spam comments, you can email blogs@warwick.ac.uk. I’ve just deleted around 40 comments made by “Dr. Deall”

    22 Sep 2007, 00:22

  22. Luke Parks just raised our doctor in another entry. Depending on how it inserted the comments, it’s not inconceivable that a WB-targeted method is being used to insert comments and bypass the question. Might be time to get the drawing board out and come up with a hard solution.

    22 Sep 2007, 01:19


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