Posts about facebook

Confusing *a* public with *the* public

I think Facebook’s problem lately with its disliked like button (and Google’s problem with the start of Buzz) is that they confuse the notion of the public sphere—that is, all of us—with the idea of making a public—that is, the small societies we create on Facebook or join on Twitter. Private v. public is not a binary decision; there is a vast middle inbetween that is about the control of our own publics. Allow me to explain….

Flickr: taberandrew

I’ve been trying to understand the vitriol I’ve seen in some quarters about Facebook’s latest moves—because I don’t fully get it. Oh, I understand the confusion Facebook’s privacy changes and settings cause—as Business Insider said, “Online privacy is the new programming a VCR.” Read EFF’s disquieting timeline of the mutation of Facebook’s privacy policy and look at this brilliant visualization of how Facebook has made the private public. I understand the problem.

But why is the reaction to Facebook’s latest move—the like button—so swift and so fierce, so last-straw-on-the-camel’s-back to some? Gizmodo dyspeptically listed 10 reasons to quit Facebook. Gizmodo and Engadget founding editor Peter Rojas quit Facebook, as did Google’s Matt Cutts, and my This Week in Google boss Leo Laporte disabled his account for awhile. Three heavier heavyweights in our world it’s hard to find and when they lose trust—which is what happened—that’s a big deal, bigger than Facebook seems to realize.

Clearly, there’s something more going on here, something fundamental. Facebook overstepped a line and so I want to try to find that line. I think it may lay here:

Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg seem to assume that once something is public, it’s public. They confused sharing with publishing. They conflate the public sphere with the making of a public. That is, when I blog something, I am publishing it to the world for anyone and everyone to see: the more the better, is the assumption. But when I put something on Facebook my assumption had been that I was sharing it just with the public I created and control there. That public is private. Therein lies the confusion. Making that public public is what disturbs people. It robs them of their sense of control—and their actual control—of what they were sharing and with whom (no matter how many preferences we can set). On top of that, collecting our actions elsewhere on the net—our browsing and our likes—and making that public, too, through Facebook, disturbed people even more. Where does it end?

Facebook has been playing this tension since its early days. Remember the hubbub over News Feed: When Facebook aggregated our updates into feeds, it freaked users, even though Mark Zuckerberg pointed out that all these updates were already visible to us among our friends on their pages. Zuckerberg’s vision was right in the end; the News Feed is critical to Facebook’s utility, value, and growth and it presaged the appeal of Twitter. But even in the public Twitter, even though we are publishing to the world, we still have a measure of control; we decide whom to follow—that is, which publics to join.

So let me repeat: In Facebook, we get to create our publics. In Twitter, we decide which publics to join. But neither is the public sphere; neither entails publishing to everyone. Yet Facebook is pushing us more and more to publish to everyone and when it does, we lose control of our publics. That, I think, is the line it crossed.

The irony in all this is that I think Facebook has been profoundly redefining our notion of a public in ways that—judging by its actions—even it does not fully grasp. I am listening to a fascinating radio series (and podcast) on the CBC based on the work of a project called Making Publics. This group of academics began five years ago with Jürgen Habermas’ belief that the public sphere—the counterweight to the state as heard through public discussion and opinion—did not emerge until the 19th century. They also agreed that prior to the Renaissance and the 16th century, “public” referred to people with public standing in the social hierarchy—the elite—rather than to all of us. But then the Making Public team saw that during the 16th and 17th centuries, the printing press, theater, art—that is, the means to publish and present—as well as markets enabled people to create and join their own publics.

I am struck with how similar that moment of change is to the internet’s upheaval today. Gutenberg’s press—and the arts of painting and theatre and the skill of map-making—enabled a still-small elite to create publics; indeed, their hold on the public stayed in place until only a decade ago. Today, the web enables all of us to publish and thus to make publics and also to join new publics (and destroy the old, elite definition and control of the public). The three key inventions of the early-modern era that enabled this change were the compass, gunpowder, and the press. Our equivalents are—what?—the net, the web, and blogs. Berners-Lee is our Gutenberg. Or is it Ev?

Facebook refined the gross sense of publicness that blogs put in the hands of us all: everyone publishing to everyone. Its social network gave us the tools to create and join our own publics and gain control over what we make public and who can join it. That was a powerful gift that shifted the basis of interaction online from flaming to friendship, built on real identity and real relationships. Facebook helped civilize the internet. Yet I don’t think Facebook understands the value of that control because it continues to try to make us entirely public.

See once more Matt McKeon’s visualization of Facebook’s public evolution. Hear, too, Zuckerberg’s Law: “I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before.”

People accuse Zuckerberg of killing privacy and of wanting it dead. I think that’s likely unfair. I think instead he does see a profound cultural shift, one that existed before him but one that he took advantage of and then served and refined: We connect by sharing. In his view, I’ll bet, he’s not killing privacy; we are. He’s fine with that. And to an extent, so am I, as I argue the value of publicness. But both of us miss this subtle but profound distinction between the public and a public at our peril. That’s the lesson I’m trying to learn here as I start to write a book about publicness (more on that later).

I will argue that we face choices today about keeping something private or sharing it with our public or with the public at large and that we need to see the benefits of sharing—the benefits of publicness—as we make that calculation. I will argue that if we default to private, we risk losing the value of the connections we can make today. I will argue that we need institutions—companies and governments—to default to public. And I will argue that the more we live in public, the more we share, the more we create collective wisdom and value. I will defend publicness. But I will also defend privacy—that is, control over this decision.

I would not be surprised to hear that Zuckerberg shares this gospel. I think he’s sincere when he says he sees Facebook as a tool to enable us all to change our world through connections. I think that’s why he’s pushing us to be public; it’s more than just a cynical commercial motive. Yet I think he gets in trouble when he doesn’t see these distinctions, which I’m trying to discern in our new definitions of private, public, publics, and identity. And so he risks blowing it. But I still think it’s not too late.

I don’t believe Facebook has gone evil—or gone rogue, as Wired insists. The problem for Facebook is more likely that it never defined evil—as in “don’t be evil.” Google is aware of its line, which is about losing value if it loses trust. Facebook seems almost unaware of its line and perhaps that’s because its is harder to find. I suggest they study 16th century history and the origins of the public as they reinvent the public.

* * *

Flickr: Matthew Burpee

All this is related to the question of identity online—related but different. What I publish can add up to my identity and with different publics I have different identities. So identity is a key component of our notions of publicness.

The admirable Diaspora Project is trying to build an open and distributed version of Facebook to let us publish, aggregate, and control our own stuff to make up our own identities. That’s great, but I think that, too, conflates the ideas of a public and the public; it does what Zuckerberg is doing by having us publish everything to all, except it gives us ownership of that. I’m not criticizing the effort at all; I think it’s great. I’m just saying that this isn’t a substitute for Facebook; it’s something different, something more public.

Having captured what it thinks is our identities online, Facebook now wants to be the enabler and controller of our identities. But because we don’t want our stuff on Facebook to be completely public, Facebook cannot be that hub of public identity. The Diaspora Project can. But I wonder whether the Diaspora Project—like ClaimID and OpenID—can succeed because I wonder what our motivation is to keep our identities updated. I have a reason to update Facebook for my friends there or this blog for you all or LinkedIn for my professional contacts or Twitter for my instant ego gratification. But I haven’t had a reason to keep ClaimID (on this page) up to date. That’s the trap the Diaspora Project needs to avoid.

And this is where I think that Leo Laporte and Gina Trapani collaboratively stumbled on a big idea related to identity on the latest This Week in Google. Gina talked about our motive to update Facebook and Leo said the equivalent for identity would come if Google put our profile pages on the top of the search results for our names. If the first result for Leo Laporte in search were Leo Laporte’s profile page, he’d be motivated to keep it up to date, to make it the canonical Leo page. Brilliant, I think. Google, are you listening? Facebook?

* * *

Other notes…. The problem with the launch of Google’s Buzz was related but not so subtle: By mixing our email with its Twitteresque platform, Buzz, Google mixed our private and public. It not only mixed our email connections with the idea of publishing to the world, it also robbed us of the chance to create and control our own publics. In another of its Snuffaluffagus moments, I imagine that Google thought it was doing us a favor by making a public for us: our readymade society. But that was precisely the wrong move, for we want to make and join publics on our own. That is the essence of controlling our worlds.

Facebook’s identity opportunity – or somebody’s

Facebook has the chance to turn a problem — negative publicity about its latest privacy shifts and confusion about how to control them — into a business opportunity: It could become the protector of your identity instead of a threat to it. That’s a service we need.

Imagine if Facebook started a new and independent arm to take your side in any question about identity and privacy on Facebook — the ID equivalent of Google’s Data Liberation Front. This group’s job would be to simplify all the obfuscation that is confusing every Facebook user I know about how and where their data will be used and shared: create simple tools with simple rules and explanations and execute our wishes for us. That alone would help Facebook’s relationship with us today. If Facebook wants us to trust our identities to Facebook, then it better take that mission seriously.

Now imagine that Facebook does such a good job of that — turning its rumbling PR problem into a new asset — that we ask it to bring this service elsewhere on the web, helping us determine and decide what’s shared about me on the internet: what I share about me, what others share about me, what others can see of me, and how I can manage that.

I see a new identity dashboard over the web that lets me see how I’m seen and then adjust and publish as I choose — not just shutting down (which is what happens when people get overwhelmed with privacy control issues — even Leo Laporte is doing that) but also deciding what we want to make public (because I argue there is value in publicness).

Mind you, I am not publishing all the things that add up to me through Facebook, nor will I ever. I publish my identity every day all over the web; that is what Facebook should help me manage. Identity is distributed. So, as I argued here, I should control this on my own but I need help managing it. Current tools — ClaimID and such — are as difficult to use as Facebook’s privacy control and are ineffective.

There’s also a service waiting to happen to verify identity. Twitter does that for celebs; why not for all of us?

Facebook could do all this. Because it already has the tightest link to our identities online, it should do this. I’d argue it should do this to turn its relationship with us and our identities on its axis: rather than being accused of exploiting our identities, it should regain our trust — and value — by becoming our best protector, our ID agent.

Google could also do that. This might be a way for it to leapfrog Facebook in the identity and social front: help us organize not the world’s information but our information. The Google profile page becomes not something that lives on Google but something Google enables us to manage.

Even the Post Office could do this. Way back when, it proposed becoming an identity verification service. I know from my little bit of work with folks in the area that the USPS is certainly looking for new ways to bring value (read: new reasons to exist).

Startups could do this. As I tell my entrepreneurial students, whenever you see a problem, look for the opportunity in it. In all the yammering and schwitzing about Facebook and privacy and identity, it’s easy to see a big need and opportunity. Facebook should see it; others can, too.

Bizarro identity

I’m still trying to get my head around Facebook’s moves to become the king of identity online. Hell, if Leo Laporte couldn’t quite figure it out on yesterday’s taping of This Week in Google, then I’m not capable. But here’s where I am. Help me advance this….

I think my problem is this: I want the exact opposite of what Facebook did. I want the Bizarro Facebook. Instead of Facebook controlling my identity, I want to be able to control and publish and set access to and rules for the use of my identity online, allowing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, anyone access to it under my terms.

When I tweeted that, ad man Rishad Tobaccowala tweeted: “you are right. What we want closed (our data) they want open. What we want open (create and transfer) they want closed.” He then added: “When it is so easy to “like” is it really like? A profusion of “liking” will soon be like… Noise.” Agree.

My identity already exists online. It is my name, my email address(s), my URL(s) (for my blog, work, etc.), my Twitter account, my Flickr, my YouTube, my reputation culled from various services, and more. It is distributed. I have control over most of that.

What’s needed versus the present? Three things, I think:
* Organization. As Google organized our information, the war here is to organize us.
* Verification. No one, I hope, wants to verify as passports do. But Facebook has a leg ahead of everyone else on nearly verified identity simply because of how its service works: fake identities tend to be ejected from the bloodstream because they are irrelevant and irritating; Facebook is about real identities and real relationships and the one feeds the other.
* Connections. That, I think, is what Mark Zuckerberg means when he talks about making things social, about the social graph. He wants to link us to each other and information and that enhances our identities (what do I like and do and think….).

Fine. But I don’t think Facebook approached that opportunity asking first, “What can we do for the world of users online,” and second, “How can Facebook benefit?” If Facebook adds value, I have no objection to it benefiting, just as I believe Google should benefit by organizing our information and creating platforms; it’s what makes that benefit sustainable. But Facebook clearly asked the questions in the wrong order: It figured out what would benefit it most and then we get a few dividends: we get to tell our friends what we like and find out what our friends like.

But in the process, Facebook controls our identities with no relationship to our true identities online — that list above from email addresses to blogs to photos. Indeed, I’d argue that Facebook separates us from our true identities, for that is in Facebook’s favor; it gives Facebook control.

Far better and more experienced minds than mine are trying to get their heads around this. Dave Winer likes the idea of liking but also won’t put all his eggs into Zuck’s basket and so he suggests:

So perhaps there’s a compromise? Let me implement my own Like feature and have it connect up to Facebook through a feed. And let it connect up to Facebook’s competitors just as easily. I’m sure the smart guys at Facebook could figure out how to do this, perhaps they already have? I’m willing to do a little extra work to keep the web independent of any one company.

Right. Don’t all the identity standards and structures already exist openly. This is what irked Kevin Marks, who has done a great deal of work on identity, much of it while he was at Google. When he complained about this false openness last night, I said and he retweeted, “Open Graph is open as in ‘open your underwear drawer.'”

But as Swom_Network tweeted as I was tweeting about all this today, “Yep. but who is to do it?”

That’s really the question. Openness and standards are wonderful but if they don’t add up to applications that accomplish things, then we only open the door for companies to step in and seize the opportunity. Perhaps that’s inevitable. And I can live with that.

But we, the people, aren’t going to build these new applications and systems then we at least need to hold those who do to a set of principles, which means we need to have a set of principles to point to (and I’ll point to mine again).

Facebook’s Open Graph, I think, does not give us full control over our data and identities; it is not built to open standards; if it were, I’d be able to do what I want to do because others could build competing applications atop those standards. Then I’d be able to publish my identity on my own or through Facebook or through Acme ID Inc. and anyone could come along and verify my identity and publish that and developers would be able to come along and offer services based on that identity. But that works only if it is built to standards and principles, if it’s distributed and open. Open Graph is not.

As Dave Winer also says in his post, this is about more than identifying us. This structure leads to identifying places, sites, data, information. We will add a tremendously valuable layer of data atop the world — what we look at, what we like, what our friends like…. That is the wisdom of the crowd. Who owns that wisdom? No one but us. If you add value to it, you can extract that value (that’s what search engines do). But if you own the crowd’s wisdom then isn’t the crowd screwed?

Or that’s what I think I think. What do you think?

: MOMENTS LATER: As soon as I tweeted this, I saw that Rick Klau, a good guy at Google, is the new PM on Google Profiles and he suggested talking about it. I’ll think out loud first:

Google could build the open system I hope for … could. It has profile. It has the stuff around ID Kevin Marks showed me when I visited the company. It has lots of knowledge about our distributed identities.

What it doesn’t have is that close link to an almost verified identity. Sure, I can go and build a Google Profile page. But the problem with that is that it doesn’t really interact with the world the way my Facebook page does, so it lacks the opportunities for verification through relationships, right?

What could Google do about that? It could create a value-added service to verify identities (as Twitter has begun to do with the famous) but we’d find value in that only if others used it to some good end: if we could use it to publish comments on sites or make transactions. Is that enough?

Maybe Google can create the algorithmic authority (and identity) Clay Shirky dreams of: rather than verifying manually, it gives our identities a score and that increases our value in other transactions.

I still don’t know what to think.

Google.TV

I had fun this week taping an episode of Press:Here, a Silicon Valley show on the NBC station in San Jose, talking with host Scott McGrew, Forbes’ Elizabeth Cororan, and reporter of many hats Sarah Lacy.

Also on: Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelley talked about the week’s kerfuffle. Corcoran and Lacy said they thought that involving all Facebook’s users in a constitutional convention of sorts was mob rule. I said it was Googley to be listening.

The quality of friendship

The Guardian’s Anna Pickard issues a rousing endorsement of online friendships on Comment is Free:

The friends I’ve made online – from blogging in particular, be they other bloggers or commenters on this or my own site – are the best friends I now have. And yet, when I say this to people, many times they’ll look at me like I’m a social failure; and when surveys like this are reported, it’s always with a slight air of being the “It’s a crazy, crazy, crazy world!” item last thing on the news. Some portions of my family still refer to my partner of six years as my “Internet Boyfriend”.

Call me naive, but far from being the bottomless repository of oddballs and potential serial killers, the internet is full of lively minded, like-minded engaging people – for the first time in history we’re lucky enough to choose friends not by location or luck, but pinpoint perfect friends by rounding up people with amazingly similar interests, matching politics, senses of humour, passionate feelings about the most infinitesimally tiny hobby communities. The friends I have now might be spread wide, geographically, but I’m closer to them than anyone I went to school with, by about a million miles.

For me, and people like me who might be a little shy or socially awkward – and there are plenty of us about – moving conversations and friendships from the net to a coffee shop table or the bar stool is a much more organic, normal process than people who spend less time online might expect.

Depending on the root of the friendship, on where the conversation started, the benefit is clear – you cut out the tedium of small talk. What could be better?

See also Leisa Reichelt’s seminal post on ambient intimacy. And also my column in the Guardian on how constant connection will change the nature of friendship. And here’s what I said in the last chapter of my book on the larger impact of Google and the internet:

I believe young people today—Generation Google—will have an evolving understanding and experience of friendship as the internet will not let them lose touch with the people in their lives. Google will keep them connected. . . .

Thanks to our connection machine, they will stay linked, likely for the rest of their lives. With their blogs, MySpace pages, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, Seesmic conversations, Twitter feeds, and all the means for sharing their lives yet to be invented, they will leave lifelong Google tracks that will make it easier to find them. Alloy, a marketing firm, reported in 2007 that 96 percent of teens and tweens used social networks—they are essentially universal—and so even if one tie is severed, young people will still be linked to friends of friends via Facebook, never more than a degree or two apart.

I believe this lasting connectedness can improve the nature of friendship and how we treat each other. It will no longer be easy to escape our pasts, to act like cads and run away. We will behave with this knowledge in the present. More threads will tie more of us together longer than in any time since the bygone days when we lived all our lives in small towns.

Today, our circles of friends will grow only larger. Does this abundance of friendship make each relationship shallower? I don’t think so. Friendship finds its natural water level—we know our capacity for relationships and stick closest to those we like best. The so-called Dunbar rule says we end up with 150 friends. I think that could grow. But remember the key insight that made Facebook such a success: It brought real names and real relationships to the internet. It’s about good friends.

I just asked Anna to be my Facebook friend.

Guardian column: Facebook’s choice

My Guardian column this week (a last-minute substitution for the BBC Newsroom column, which delayed to the next time because of an overdose of BBC news) is about Facebook’s momentous choice — control v. openness — and how Google maneuvered them into it.

Snippet:

That is the essential choice Facebook faces: openness v control. That quandary is not unique; every media company is now facing the same choice in the Google age. Google values openness so it can search you and send audience to you.

Whoever succeeds in mapping the social graph will better understand how society operates: who is friends with whom; who is influential; what we like; what we do. The winner in the social war will understand how we behave and interact and it can bring that knowledge to commerce, advertising, media, even government. That is the real prize.

@Facebook @Shark: jump?

I have been the greatest fan and booster of Facebook but I have to wonder whether they are leapfrogging the shark by cutting off Google Friend Connect — not because it is evil but because it is closed, limiting, wrong, and not in their own self-interest, a key and possibly fatal strategic mistake.

The essential question for Facebook is this: Do you want to be a closed site or an open platform? Do you want to be a closed social network or enable the open social network the internet already is? Clearly, it is better to be the platform. But Facebook is being strangely blind to that.

At the same time, I’ve become less addicted to Facebook because there isn’t enough there. That could be because I hang with old farts, who’ve cooled on the fad. But it’s more likely because Twitter has become a more meaningful platform for keeping in touch with friends (though that, too, could change). Though Facebook still has more functionality enabling me to organize those friends, Twitter is better at distinguishing acquaintances (the followers) from friends (the followed). That is, whereas on Facebook, I have — I’m sorry to say — 1,030 ignored friend requests, on Twitter, I have 1,765 followers. Twitter has learned from Facebook’s mistakes. So has Google.

Facebook should have asked — pardon the plug for the book — WWGD? If they had thought like Google, they would have tried to figure out how to use what they had built — an organizing system for friendship — and turn that into a platform we can use — and control — anywhere on the internet.

Google has quite cleverly done that as they explain on their code blog. They used Facebook’s API by all appearances legitimately. They give us control of how we use our data (and our friends are our data). They also kluged it a bit so they don’t retain data (which also means that other sites can really manipulate it, losing some potential functionality but keeping Google on the safe site of the line).

People find the relationships they’ve built on social networks really valuable, and they want the option of bringing those friends with them elsewhere on the web. Google Friend Connect is designed to keep users fully in control of their information at all times. Users choose what social networks to link to their Friend Connect account. (They can just as easily unlink them.) We never handle passwords from other sites, we never store social graph data from other sites, and we never pass users’ social network IDs to Friend Connected sites or applications.

Google is only doing what Facebook should have done: open up to be more useful across the entire internet. Now Google is giving Facebook the opportunity to do that — the dare to do that — and Facebook is chickening out. Big mistake.

I wrote back in 2006 that the internet is the social network. The winner will be he who brings that — to use Mark Zuckerberg’s own words and credo — elegant organization.

But the truly valuable network, the network of networks, the unbreakable bubble of bubbles, will be the one that manages to bring people together wherever we are, not just on MySpace (read: RupertsSpace), not just in Flickr or Del.icio.us, and not even just in the blogosphere, but everywhere. The internet doesn’t need more social networks. The internet is the social network. We have our identities, interests, reputations, relationships, information, and lives here, and we’re adding more every day. The network enabler that manages to help us tie these together to find not just connections or email addresses or information or songs but people — friends, colleagues, teachers, students, partners, lovers — across this open world, that will be the owner of the biggest network of them all: The Google of people.

I’m no mathematician or scientist, so I have to express this in words, but here’s the way I calculate the value of networks:

The Law of Open Networks: The more open a network is, the more control there is at the edges, the more the edges value the network, the more the network is worth.

The business lessons from this: Any choke point of control, via ownership, decreases the value of the network. Enablers increase the value of the network. The network will abhor and find ways around choke points. The network will value enablers and that is the point at which value may be extracted from the network. The value in networks in the open future is not in ownership and control but in enabling others to control.

Facebook put a chokehold around our data about our friends. Huge mistake. As Steve Gillmor said in his excellent Techcrunch analysis:

Facebook finally has a real problem to deal with – an exceptionally rational and well-thought-out strategy by Google that puts the leading social media cloud in the path of a wave of angry users. The only thing Facebook has going for it is that said users don’t yet know they’re angry.

Umair Haque has been purposefully over-the-top calling Facebook’s act “evil” (a few Twitter folks said his language gets in the way). But when you dig down, Umair, as is his habit, finds a brilliant and new law at work here:

What’s really going on here? There’s a massive tectonic shift rocking the economic landscape. All these players are discovering that the boardroom’s first and most important task is simply to try always and everywhere do less evil. In the dismal language of economics: as interaction explodes, the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits.

Let’s repeat that and dub it Haque’s Law: As interaction explodes, the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what Google is really talking about when it promises not to be evil. It is not a campaign pledge (“Yes, we cannot be evil!”) or a geeky Bible lesson about good and bad (open unto others as they would open unto you) but a cold, calculated business rule:

When the people can talk with, about, and around you, screwing them is no longer a valid business strategy.

Be warned, cable companies, airlines, insurance companies, real estate agents, ad agencies, and governments: choke points are evil and evil is bad business.

This is — sorry for the second plug — at the heart of my book. Interaction turns control over to the public and that fundamentally changes business and society. Oh, I know, that drives various curmudgeons, cynics, and polemicists nutty but I do believe it is true. Google has found (not created but exploited) a new economy and only a fool would not try to learn from that and follow its lead if at all possible.

And I can’t believe that Mark Zuckerberg is a fool. I’ve said in the past that he makes mistakes, but he makes mistakes well — listening, learning, and changing quickly. Well, he’d better change quickly on this one. And the lesson here is no different at all from the lessons he learned with the botched announcements of Facebook’s news feed and ad program: It’s about control. We want control of our data.

But there’s a bigger lesson here: It’s about being a platform instead of a service (or portal). Last year, I disagreed with friend Scott Heiferman when he said that Facebook was the new AOL — and, indeed, Scott quickly disagreed with himself. But Zuckerberg may be proving him right after all. If he tries to build his business by attracting us to his garden and then fencing us in, if he doesn’t give us control and let us use Facebook and our identity there as a platform for our lives, then he is turning it into the next AOL when it could be the next Google. And that would be tragic. Tragic.

This is the critical moment in Facebook’s history. This is the moment when they realize that they have to give control to us and to the internet and become a platform. If they do, I’m likely to use my Facebook identity as my key identity only because it is tied to my social network; that is precisely what makes it more valuable than others. I don’t think that Twitter will be that but it may be the best second choice and it is tied to more dynamic information from my friends. Whether friend or follower, I want to link with people online. Who will help me? Who will stop me? He who helps, wins.

: More from Fred Wilson, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble.

: LATER: The irony of Google, of course, is that it’s open when it’s fighting closed systems (advertising, media, Facebook) but its instinct is closed. They wouldn’t even let the NY Times give them harmless publicity for their Lego logo. Don’t need it, they say. Would rather hide in a dark room.

: LATEST: This is why I don’t bet against Zuckerberg. Already, he says he wants to meet with Google and work it out. Smart.

Ambient intimacy

Leisa Reichelt says that the syncopated updates we share publicly with friends and followers in Twitter (and blogs and Flickr….) add up to what she called “ambient intimacy.”

Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible. Flickr lets me see what friends are eating for lunch, how they’ve redecorated their bedroom, their latest haircut. Twitter tells me when they’re hungry, what technology is currently frustrating them, who they’re having drinks with tonight.

Who cares? Who wants this level of detail? Isn’t this all just annoying noise? There are certainly many people who think this, but they tend to be not so noisy themselves. It seems to me that there are lots of people for who being social is very much a ‘real life’ activity and technology is about getting stuff done.

There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like.

Knowing these details creates intimacy. (It also saves a lot of time when you finally do get to catchup with these people in real life!) It’s not so much about meaning, it’s just about being in touch.

Right. I argued in this post and column sometime ago that these functionalities — plus our ongoing connectedness on Facebook and our searchability via Google — will have a profound impact on friendship and our relationships. I said there that they will keep us in touch longer and so we can’t just lose people anymore. Reichelt says they also change our current relationships and I agree. It’s quite an insight that this causes a new kind of intimacy: We see the things we wouldn’t see in others’ lives unless we were damned near living together. For some people, I couldn’t care to know that much. For others, she’s right, it is a handy way to catch up, to be in touch.

I’ve mentioned here that I’ve found and been found by friends I haven’t seen in decades (more than I’ll admit) thanks to one or the other of our Google shadows. I’m about to meet up with one of them and we’ve been doing this catchup dance via email, which is also new and fits under Reichelt’s umbrella, I think, for it’s just a cold technological tool that makes it easy to update and catch up. If I’d been catching up via Facebook or Twitter or blogs all that time, the possibilities and definitions of friendship would be different.

Reichelt also talks about the flipside of this, ambient exposure: the publicness that makes this possible but also creates some vulnerability. And each force us to define our societies, the people we want to share with: one person on an email, a few people in a chat, a defined group in Facebook or Pownce, a group we don’t define (if we’re public) in Twitter, anyone at all in a blog.

What a great time to be a Reichelt writing about this or a Danah Boyd studying it or a Tara Hunt living it.