Small Ideas

Finding the next big idea by exploring small ones – by Rishi Khaitan

Reactions to the new “Stalkerbook”

with 15 comments

It came to my attention here and on TechCrunch a couple of hours ago that there has been a few changes on Facebook tonight. In addition to a minor makeover to the look of certain pages on the site, the two changes with the biggest potential impact are the News Feed and the Mini-Feed.

News Feed highlights what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook. It updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again. Now, whenever you log in, you’ll get the latest headlines generated by the activity of your friends and social groups.

Mini-Feed is a new part of the profile that shows all the latest stuff someone has added on Facebook. Mini-Feed is similar, except that it centers around one person. Each person’s Mini-Feed shows what has changed recently in their profile and what content (notes, photos, etc.) they’ve added.

So basically a record of each action you perform on Facebook and each profile update you make is logged and listed both on your profile and is streamed to all the people in your network. Of course, the intent of this feature is to help keep your friends updated with happenings in your life. So this is a great feature right? Here are some reactions from Facebook users on a big message board called OT that I’m on:

“this is horrible. i might just kill my account now”
“this is complete bullshit.”
“god damn these are stalker tools at its finest”
“good thing i graduated so i don’t use this anymore.”
“the Newsfeed business is the worst thing they could’ve possibly done to the site”

and my favorite comment which humorously points out how the feed system can be manipulated…

“I just got into a relationship, got engaged, got complicated, got married and now I’m single”

The facelifted UI also got negative reactions mainly because people think it’s too cluttered. One guy likened the messy design to MySpace, another wishes for a return to the simple purity of Facebook of 3 years ago, and another was worried about getting epileptic seizures from the new layout. =)

One aspect I think people overlooked is that you can delete any item from your Mini Feed that you don’t want people who view your profile to be alerted about. Facebook needs to emphasize this point. Currently there’s a tiny blue ‘x’ to the right of each item in your Mini Feed and I think people are not noticing it. However it’s not clear if deleting an item from your Mini Feed also deletes it from being published to News Feeds of people in your network.

We all know that a big reason why social networks are big is because people enjoy seeing what’s going on in other people’s lives. But there’s a big difference between looking and stalking. The News Feed feature turns social networking into social stalking and that’s just creepy. I think Facebook really needs to re-evaluate how the system works. Facebook has recently caught criticism from users who feel like the company just keeps stuffing the site with unnecessary additions (i.e. workplace communities) that spoil what once was an authentic experience. One of the best comments in the discussion was one user’s crude, yet truthful, opinion of what Facebook once was and what it’s now becoming.

The beauty of Facebook is to find people in your classes to borrow a book or locate a local college slut for a hookup. It’s now marketed to those who play wall tag with each other and try to make it a more sophisticated MySpace.

If you have a Facebook account, check out the changes for yourself.

UPDATE: Fred Stutzman had some great comments on this topic. Click here.

UPDATE 2: Just saying thanks to Margaret Kane at CNET News, Jack Schofield at the Guardian in the UK and Oliver Ryan at CNNMoney.com for quoting this post of mine in their news coverage of this story.

UPDATE 3: A reader asked me to comment on what I thought Facebook could have done differently. Here is an excerpt from a comment that I made on Fred Stutzman’s blog:

I feel like the biggest mistake Facebook made was in the rollout of the feed system. They should have given users a heads-up about the feature in advance of the launch and explained to users the benefit of the feed system and the related privacy issues (and include steps on how to control privacy). From all the comments I’ve read, I think people are negative because they logged into Facebook this morning and saw that a detailed log of their actions on the site is now in the public domain.

If I put my cell phone # on my profile, that is my choice and I do so knowing that it will be publicly available. Facebook did not give users the choice to publish their action history via the News Feed. They just went ahead and did it. Sure, the user can go back and delete individual items from their feed but it’s not hard to see why tons of Facebook users are having knee-jerk reactions of anger due to privacy invasion feelings. Users felt like they’ve lost full control of their Facebook identity.

Written by Rishi

September 5th, 2006 at 3:55 am

15 Responses to 'Reactions to the new “Stalkerbook”'

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  1. Personally, I have no problems with the privacy issue. I actually like it that my friends get to know what I’m up to. And also, letting all of us stay up to date more easily is a good thing!

    In any case, I wouldn’t put anything too creepily personal on my facebook anyway, even if there were no feeds broadcasting my every move. I guess it really boils down to how each person is using facebook. I think if they’re putting way too much information, it’s going to get found out eventually.

    James Yu

    5 Sep 06 at 12:32 pm

  2. James,

    What made Facebook authentic originally was that it was more intimate and private than other social networking sites. That’s why you see Facebook users happy to divulge their most personal contact info like phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and IM nicknames all on their profile.

    I absolutely agree that there is value in notifying others about updates in your life. I think the way that Facebook launched this feature was bad. They should have made their users aware of the consequences of the News Feed system before activating it. Moreover, by default, they should have had less granularity in the feed and allowed users the option to make it more granular if they want to

    Rishi Khaitan

    5 Sep 06 at 2:26 pm

  3. Facebook’s simplistic layout is what attracted me to the site in the first place. I really do enjoy it , and keeping up with your friends isn’t hard in the first place. Just write them a message and they’ll usually reply.

    With this new shit, the screen is WAYYY to busy. I really don’t care what groups who joined, or whatever. They need to go back to the old layout. They’ve incorporated a lot of changes lately. The “my notes” or whatever is complete garbage as well. While blogging is a great way to reach out, I believe it should be kept as a separate entity from Facebook.

    Finally, there should be an option to just disable “feeds”. It’s already tedious deleting all the nonsense. I hope someone on Facebook has started a “Bring Back The Old Facebook” group already, since I couldn’t find a contact number or email to express my opinion.

    Sam

    5 Sep 06 at 3:29 pm

  4. [...] This page sums up most people’s sentiments about the new Facebook features and facelift. It’s not everybody’s opinion, but when mass amounts of users are threatening to close their Facebook accounts because of this, it’s something Facebook should deal with. [...]

  5. [...] From blogosphere: VentureBeat, It’s Rishi, Elliott Back, PaulStamatiou.com, digg, TechCrunch, Mashable!, Unit Structures Technorati Tags: Facebook Mini Feed News Feed [...]

  6. [...] A recent unrest among the users of Facebook, caused by a new “person feeds” feature highlights an important, but strangely overlooked, fact about the social mechanics on checking up on your friends: The most important thing about it is the social exchange, not the information exchange. In other words, there’s a reason the correct reply to the greeting “Hi, how are you” is “Fine, how are you” and not “Well, you see – I’m feeling a bit bloated. I had too much to eat at lunch, but workwise I’m good”, or similar detailed accounts of your mental and physical state. [...]

  7. I think there is a feature to limit how much people see your changes but still, when I first logged onto my account a few days ago, I was like…what the hell? Just like everyone else, the “cleanliness” of the facebook system is what I had liked. Just like everything else these days though, they will either cave in because of their target audience or not give a crap because of upcoming $$$$ deals.

    WWZD? (What Would Zuckerman Do?)

    Andre

    6 Sep 06 at 7:52 am

  8. I’ve put up a web site which allows users to delete all visible Feed items from their profile. All any student needs to do is visit http://evernex.com/facebook and follow the instructions to install a bookmark to their browser toolbar. It literally takes 10 seconds or less to install. Once installed it will delete all visible Feed items whenever a user is viewing their own profile and clicks the bookmark.

    G M

    6 Sep 06 at 8:01 pm

  9. It’s already been discovered that ‘hiding’ the mini-feed from your profile doesn’t actually hide it from friends’ news feeds. Surely, therefore, when it says “Hiding will remove the story from your Mini-Feed and prevent anyone from seeing it,” this is a blatant lie?

    L N

    7 Sep 06 at 2:13 am

  10. I think the feeds are a great new feature, but they’ve run into a problem endemic to all social networking sites. The problem is that friendship is treated as a binary relationship. Given the question ‘are you this person’s friend?’ with the options Yes or No, most people choose Yes, regardless of how well they know the person.

    This is what caused stalker comments. There are tiers of personal information – some things like name and age I don’t care if anyone knows. Other things, like relationship status, I may only want my close friends to know.

    Just removing an item from a feed is not good enough – there needs to be a finer level of granularity for information and friendships.

    Jordan McKible

    8 Sep 06 at 8:10 am

  11. [...] As Rishi Kaitan commented on his blog: “We all know that a big reason why social networks are big is because people enjoy seeing what’s going on in other people’s lives. But there’s a big difference between looking and stalking. The News Feed feature turns social networking into social stalking and that’s just creepy” [...]

  12. [...] These new features were not received well by its users. It was called Stalkerbook. A site calling people to boycott facebook popped up. They have a day set for september 12th. A petition to have the features removed from facebook has been started. [...]

  13. [...] Now, any facebook user is quite familiar with the concept of a friend activity feed. The Mini-Feed/News Feed feature launched back in the fall of ‘06. The Mini-Feed is a log of a user’s activity on facebook and the News-Feed is an intelligently filtered aggregate of all your friend’s Mini-Feeds. Although these feeds were met with much initial controversy, a facebook without them now seems impossible. For me, the primary entry point into facebook is the news feed. I can see what’s going on with my friends and click deeper into what I find interesting. I can’t imagine having to click on each of my friend’s profile pages to check for updates. Because the News Feeds allows a user to easily discover fresh content in their networks, engagement metrics on facebook increased dramatically. [...]

  14. [...] What is distinct about this privacy blowup at Facebook compared to the News Feed privacy blowup back in September ‘06 is that the Beacon is a much less visible feature. Beacons launched a month ago and a very small minority of users have actually seen it. Both because only a small percentage of Facebook users have used third-party websites that employ the beacon and because, as a result, few beacon-sourced news feed items have been created (and my guess is that even for those feed items that have been published, few users users viewing the feed clicked on it and realized it was an external link). As a result of this slow uptake, most users haven’t heard of the Beacons and those that do haven’t been personally affected by it. Those that have been prompted by a Beacon were pleased to see that it was opt-in: the user had full control. [...]

  15. I loved reading this and I dont really like to read :)

    Michael

    30 Aug 09 at 2:26 pm

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