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.

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  • C.W. Anderson

    Also see: From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik

  • R JH

    Excellent piece Jeff but I think you give Zuckerberg far too much credit. I see this latest move as naked greed. As the user base grew, the lack of user control over privacy grew. I base this on his past statements on privacy. If he had a grand vision of a connected world, he would have started Facebook with the (lack of) privacy controls that it has today. He didn’t, however. I believe he didn’t because he was fully aware that most people would not join Facebook if the current privacy model was in place when it was created. Instead it was accomplished by establishing the site with somewhat strict privacy settings that appealed to a large number of potential users. Once user numbers grew and the potential for huge revenues was recognized, the controls slowly eroded. As for me, my account has been deleted. But in typical Facebook fashion, your guess is as good as mine as to what “deleted” means.

  • This doesn’t reach or affect my friends at all. We use Facebook as the digital equivalent of a coffee machine conversation at a place where you can choose your co-workers.

    I’ve got over a 100 friends on Facebook and some of them have 500 or more. All of them can read what I wrote so I don’t consider what I say there private at all.

    • Ironically, you seem to have completely missed the entire point of this post, as succinctly summarized in its title. Sharing with 100 or 500 or 1,000 people is fundamentally different than being exposed and searchable, likely for the foreseeable future, to the people or company behind any random app or Facebook Connected website or, as Facebook keeps pushing user-created content towards, the entire world.

      There are sub-publics.

      • I guess there are some people people who confuse posting on Facebook with sending it by e-mail or telling it over the phone. I’ve read about a soldier who posted sensitive information about his unit’s movement on FB. People are obviously still learning how it all works.

        My view is that if you want to keep something a secret then don’t tell anybody about it, and if you want to keep something private, don’t post it on the internet. I think of FB friends as a filter of what I read, not a filter of who can read me.

  • A site that gets it right is But no one is moving there. Why? Most people don’t care, or have learned that Facebook is not about being private and don’t worry too much.

    • GSB

      I think that you misinterpret – the reason that the wider public use FB is because they know it, their friends are there and it’s too much hassle to go elsewhere.

      Facebook privacy or concept of privacy has evolved/moved/changed in accordance to their business goals not the benefit of the site users. That’s the central issue at hand.

    • A lot of kids using Facebook are unfortunately naive or just don’t understand the implications of privacy.

      • A lot of people who blog or search the web are naive or just don’t understand the implications of privacy. That doesn’t make blogging platforms and search engines wrong.

      • Josh

        The difference between a blog and a private social networking site is that one is implicitly open and the other is implicitly semi-open. The big difference right now between, say, Blogger and Facebook is that Blogger is published to the ENTIRE web by default, as is its purpose, where Facebook is assumed to be published to approved parties only.

        When Facebook makes this line hazy is when people start to be rather concerned. I’ve been doing netsec for years and -I- consider the new Facebook privacy settings and policies to be an all new level of convoluted and maybe even outright shady. In this case, it IS the platform’s fault that there is confusion.

    • Robert, in my opinion people are giving Facebook the benefit of the doubt. And frankly, I think Jeff is also giving Zuckerman the same.

      The truth is that the clock is ticking. He needs to generate revenue within a certain amount of time to meet obligation to his investors. Unfortunately, this has been the kiss of death for many internet businesses which start with the premise that we’ll figure out how to make money later.

      If or when he goes too far, Facebook users will be looking for alternatives like Will they be more discerning?

      We’re asking folks how they feel about information sharing here:

      Katherine Warman Kern

      • That’s a lot of “thinking” to do, but I hear what and why you’re trying to do it and I sympathize entirely with the effort. Facebook and Zuckerberg are guilty, at the very least, of making what should have been a one-car funeral look like an Operation Iraqi Freedom convoy, i.e., it shoulda been a whole helluva lot simpler and less violent than this.

    • I have to agree with Bob. And I also think that Jeff misses the point — or at least the point as most Facebook users see it. The bigger conversation, of course, is that privacy as past generations understood it is an artifact of the past. When you have 100 “friends” or more and each of them has 100 friends and so on, that’s not your little, ring-fenced circle of friends anymore. That’s the Public. Tying oneself in intellectual knots trying to invent different definitions for differing “publics” will not change that fact. That’s why no one cares. Because Facebook has been public for quite a while. Zuckerberg may be greedy but his elimination of “privacy” on Facebook is the elimination of something that ceased to exist quite a while ago.

      • Here’s Paul Carr on Techcrunch essentially making the same point but making it better:

      • Josh

        Yes and no. Facebook is a public, but no different than you talking to your friends about something that gets passed to a group of their friends that ends up coming back to you via a 4th party. Anything you ever say or do in the company of others or with written or photographic documentation has the potential to be shared.

        The issue here is that Facebook has made it very hazy as to whether you have some chance of what you say or do being seen by people you didn’t necessarily intend to see it and absolute certainty that it will be. Either way, I don’t care, I’ll always adjust my behavior accordingly, but they should probably hurry up and decide. All of this floundering makes me uneasy from a data security perspective (see: selling personal data) on top of everything else.

      • I don’t disagree. But what I’m trying to get at is what people think they’re doing when they share on Facebook and how that varies from what they are actually doing and what Facebook and Zuckerberg think they’re doing.

  • Is it time we just learn to accept the consequences of are semi-conscious or subconscious desire to be famous?

  • Sorry Jeff but this is not just an academic discussion

    • Well, given that, I wish it were a tad more academic.

      • I wish it was more of a legal issue myself.

  • MG

    Great piece. While Facebook’s blurring of sharing and publishing will eventually cause concern among mainstream users, I think the company wisely understands most of its users are invested in the platform and are essentially too lazy to migrate to a more private social net like (unless the latter makes it ridiculously easy to do so). That said, if a major cataclysm occurs – for instance, someone gets murdered because private pics end up being published — all bets are off.

    • “I think the company wisely understands most of its users are invested in the platform and are essentially too lazy to migrate to a more private social net”

      I think that’s what Facebook BELIEVES, at any rate.

    • BobP

      exactly. FB’s approach is just like the old saw: “How do you boil a frog?”

  • Facebook has changed the web for the better but has now crossed the line and gone to the darkside. Is this a tipping point? Or are we so apathetic about privacy that we’re glad to get a small discount from MacDonalds in exchange for access to our personal information and location? Might as well give our credit card statements, cell numbers, and email addresses to telemarketers.

  • Solid piece, Jeff, again. However, I too think you give Facebook too much credit. Facebook is the new Microsoft; although Zuckerberg is at the helm, this is a company with billions of dollars at stake and any opportunity to enhance the investment potential they’re probably going to take. The idea that a 25-year old kid is actually running the ship is absurd when there’s this much money at stake. I’m sure he’s important, but there’s always other factors.

    Remember, their first duty is, in American capitalism, to their investors. This is what they feel will make more money as the cold truth was, and I know this from being in digital marketing, that FB ads and other monetization strategies are woefully ineffective compared to Google or other places because people tune ads out on Facebook and social networks. They don’t generally want ads, they want engagement; and all brands understood was ads for a long time (and mostly still only understand).

    Also, you see Facebook moving into spaces, attempting to crush Foursquare and Gowalla. Much like Microsoft – where there’s a Microsoft solution for almost everything. Not just office, but video editing, project management, web development, gaming; just about every vertical Microsoft has an entrant. Facebook is becoming the same.

    That said, I think they’re leaving their foundation vulnerable from a business point of view. Part of the value for users AND marketers is that it was somewhat private and you could control your “publics.” But now, and obviously into the future, that’s not the case. They’re leaving that on the table, and maybe it’s (they need someone to rewrite their home page, they have problem Twitter had in that it makes no sense to an average user) or some other service. But there’s now a new business opportunity in the space Facebook is leaving behind.

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  • Ben berkowitz

    Great post,
    It’s always those people that don’t where the line of the social that shake things up for bette or worse.

  • Jeff, this is a great piece, and thanks for info re Diaspora project! /Craig

  • Yes & thank you, we want our DATA organised but WE will NOT be organised thank you very much!

  • Stephen

    Jeff, I think it is important to have a clear and concise definition of “private”. My notion of private at age 60 is far different than someone at age 25. The sense of privacy as I have witnessed in social discourse and humour of 25 year olds around celebrity culture topics invokes a complete sense of violation and rudeness in myself where I feel a sacred trust for at least some privacy is violated. The 25 year olds? Meh…. anything goes – if you are a public celebrity there is no privacy as a matter of course.

    The expectation of where privacy should exist has shifted dramatically.

    Another word that needs clear definition (pun intended) is “transparency”. One can be transparent and private without being public.

  • Prokofy Neva

    No, you don’t get it, because you represent Google and its interests, and those interests involve scraping as much data as possible and selling as much ads using that data as possible.
    Facebook remains as a good bulwark against Google, the data-scraping ad agency.

    People moved to Facebook because in fact it was more private than email, which has become overrun with spam if you use the free Yahoo type accounts, and is in the control of your employer and not private if you use your work email.

    Facebook is clean, meaningful email, only from people you want to hear from.

    When geeks demand FB to become more open, they merely mean that they want their class of API makers to get access to a platform for their benefit. This isn’t necessarily to the benefit of the rest of us normal users.

    • But the geeks are complaining that Facebook is opening up their own private data; that’s their problem.

      • Is anyone keeping a tally of how many non-American people Jeff pisses off when he talks about privacy?

        Saying Facebook is more private than email is silly. Both are prone to spam and both are prone to redistribution of data. It’s no more different a means of semi-private/semi-public communication than a BBS/web forum in terms of the points you speak of.

        Here’s something Prokofy should find terrifying: Guess how Facebook generates the ads you see on the right side of the page.

  • Great article, I like the distinction between *the* public and *a* public. At the same time, countless second-hand experience has taught me that anything posted online is potentially public… so maybe Facebook’s most recent move will drive people to better self-regulation.

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  • Jan van der Sluis

    Nice article. And as (a former) sociologist I am so happy to see that sociological knowledge is being used ;), and in a truly rewardeing way.
    I think we’ll have to (critically) contemplate quite a few developments connected to the fast spreading of ict’s and especcially the Internet and mobile devices. This article points out the difference between ‘public’ and ‘private’ – and effects on ‘privacy’- in a way which should lead to think over what path(s) we are following, in what direction and to what goal. In my opinion most people are either blindly in favour of technological avancement or blind to opportunities and trying to grasp on to times gone by.
    May I suggest to connect this topic to one I am even more intrigued by: ( the need of) forgetting. Check out ‘Delete, the virtue of forgetting in the digital age’ by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger.

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  • David UK

    Another thought provoking article Jeff. I was especially interested to read about the Disapora project, since I had been advocating something similar in a previous comment.

    As you point out, there is much more to peoples lives than just “public” or “private”. There are many shades of grey (or gray) in between.

    And as the guys at Disapora rightly point out, our data should not be funnelled through a centralised FaceBook that feeds on our connections. We, as individuals can be our own node in a distributed, de-centralised open web, where we have control and are dictated to by the likes of FaceBook.

    I really hope Disapora (or something similar) makes it.

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  • Christian

    May I just judo this back on you by pointing out that turning “a” public, i.e. the people who happen to be in a street at a given time, into “the” public, i.e. everybody on the internet is exactly what makes people wary of Google Street View? (However unjustified that might be).

    PS: Yes I am German ;-)

    • We still disagree. What you do on a public street is the property of the public, in my view. Trying to turn that into a lesser public is exactly what I”m arguing against, what I say is dangerous and a gift to tyrants and thieves.

      • Jeff ,
        well said, I must agree

        Zain Jeewanjee

      • There’s a very clear dichotomy.

        If I’m walking my dog down the riverfront and waving to my neighbors and the cop passing by, that’s in public view. If I’m masturbating in my room in a house I share with my room mate, that’s semi-private.

        Could tales of my bedroom exploits be distributed? Yeah. Should they be? Probably not. Do I lock my door to try and prevent that? Absolutely.

  • Hi folks,

    interesting points, but I see more danger for the open web by recent facebook moves. See my blog post:

    I’ve donated yesterday to diaspora on kickstarter where it is already backed more than 160%. It seems there is hug interested in a decentralized, open source social web.

    Best wishes

  • Jaime Barillas

    I believe the fact some “recognized” tech journalist have left Facebook is irrelevant. They are already public, and some of them have been even publishing what they buy with credit cards and how much they weight. It is pure PR. Famous people in Facebook is maybe not even 1% of the 600 million there. The fact Facebook connects you to family and friends, and nobody else have done that with the impact and extent of Facebook is the key part here. Yes, there will be other networks doing that, but the smartest (and the ones with more resources) will eventually win, as Facebook is doing it right now. On the other hand, I can’t believe people with supposedly experience in the field, believe big corporations’s intention is not to make money. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, they don’t think on you, they think on making money, period.

    • The fact that they are already “in public” is actually more cause for concern for them. Everyone that lives on the internet creates a CONTROLLED stream of public data about themselves. Granted, I’m not plotting any bank robberies on Facebook, but what I post there is not the same kind of content I post on my open Twitter. Though maybe not cause for concern between a closed group of friends, either in person or on Facebook, I think a lot of parents would rather not let the entire world know what school their kids go to.

      And yes, a driving force behind most companies is to be at least a sustainable business, if not profitable. The part missing from your argument is that alienating your user base is not good for business. Remember the Broderbund fiasco from many years ago? Burn your user base once and you’ll be feeling the financial repercussions for years.

  • Brilliant, Jeff. Brilliant. I’ve been studying and writing about the first Gutenberg moment for many years, and the parallels to today are striking. The earliest issue was taking the publication of the Bible out of the hands of the Roman Church, which is eerily similar to today’s media disruption. Threats. Licensing. Finally, acceptance. “The jewel of the elites is in the hands of the laity.” It was really all about knowledge. Can’t wait for the new book.

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  • I have always felt that we are in an open world, nothing is private , and it should all be public, you should be who you are, and everyone should know…

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  • Jeff, thanks for taking the time to write this, but I think you’ve rather confused the issue. You laid out the idea of a public and the public, but what I don’t understand is how this maps onto the web. On the public web, public does mean published. It does mean you no longer have control over it and it’s just as wrong to try to control something published as it is for record companies to try to control how people listen to their artists’ music.

    A fundamental property of the web is common protocols and open data formats, but nowhere in a data packet is there a privacy bit. There’s no browser code that checks to see if it is allowed to display a page. The way the web is built, once something is public anywhere, it’s public everywhere and for all time. I think this is a good thing, and if someone wants to make something private on a sharing service, they can do that, but public to everyone will always be an option as long as the web is around unless we fundamentally change the nature of the web. If people misunderstand the fact that public anywhere is public everywhere, it simply means that we need to explain it more clearly, and your distinction only serves to muddy the issue.

    What’s wrong about Facebook’s actions is something completely different. It’s the bait-and-switch. They explicitly told people things were private, and then opened them up.

    So the fix is to make it very clear to people that even if they only have 2 readers of their blog, it’s still being indexed by thousands of web crawlers and everything published there is globally and irrevocably public. Let’s not try to fundamentally change how the web works because people don’t understand it.

    • j. vandersteen

      Can webcrawlers and other digital-data-mining-machines crawl the part of the (f.i.) Facebook-pages that were meant to only be seen by friends ?

      If not, the changes Facebook made in de privacy-settings mean, that all information you wanted to be “private” was not only visible to all normal internet-users, but also a prey for all webcrawling-machines. It means, that all these data could be stored on other servers than the Facebook-servers ?
      In that case, to “repair” the privacy-settings doesn’t bring a lot, the data that were viewable for the webcrawlers, are stored forever somewhere else.

      I don’t think a lot of people are aware of this – please comments

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  • Miten Sampat

    Jeff, wonderful piece in general, very thoughtful as you always are.

    I wanted to pick on one particular aspect of your thesis around users getting used to the differences but the various “publics” they belong to. In particular, the notion of my public with work colleagues, or my guild I share a different side of my interests as compared to the publics I subscribe to with my family.

    Part of the issue is that we use different tools to participate in each of these (fb with friends and family, Twitter with complete strangers, company wiki or yammer with colleagues, LinkedIn for industry colleagues, etc.) publics and the controls afforded by each platform are different …and users need to grapple with that.

    Perhaps some standards will help …or (if the FTC won’t step in) if Facebook replaces everything else, we can have one place for all our controls.

    Cheers, Miten

  • Interesting reading. To an avg reader, perhaps the Habermasian term Public Sphere becomes somewhat overkill, but I like the angle. However, as Habermas’ critics have pointed out (and he himself acknowledged): There is no single Public (sphere), but a magnitude of overlaping ones. For particulary interested, see relevant thesis om this issue: (under Publications tab)

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  • DSQ

    Nice dissection and I admire your efforts to remain objective and offer benefit of the doubt. However, while I watch both the Zuck & Steve Jobs I give them credit for having ideas and some vision, however I see both as blind and current examples of two classic principles: ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ and ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ I remain on the side of hope, but realistically do not see either coming around in any meaningful fashion.

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  • Wonderful analysis, Jeff. I started my own piece on almost the same subject about two weeks ago where I tied some of this to the evolution of the internet and looked a bit at an alternative (which I’ll go more into later).

    I think what you’re getting at, but not quite saying, is that Facebook is in danger of eliminating context by getting rid of the publics we construct, which is going to be its downfall – afterall, identity is, has always been, and will always be highly contextual.

    Here’s my post:

    Sorry for channeling you so much.

  • My concern is that we’ve embarked on a slippery slope, not necessarily in the transformation of Facebook into a more public site, but in Facebook being deceptive in how things are explained, executed, and the state of their business practices, period.

    -I CAN’T OPT OUT. Whereas I can just not use the marketplace, or I can block the hearts/hugs/skin grafting applications from my feed or I can block people, I can’t opt out of the like bar on sites. It makes me wonder if they’re doing something in their API that we’re not aware of.

    -I CAN’T DISABLE IT (well, I can, but it’s absurd how you have to do it). Surprisingly enough, unchecking the data sharing pilot box doesn’t actually disable integration with sites that are part of the data sharing pilot. You actually have to BLOCK those applications to keep the sites from asking you about it. And they don’t tell you this…

    -Did I just get censored? I have a friend that linked to an article about how there may be misrepresentation of iPad numbers by analysts and had a few snide (not profane, not violating TOS) comments to make about it. When I went to comment, the post on Facebook was just gone. He noticed this too and sent me a text about it. Granted, Facebook has more than its share of infrastructure problems (another cause for concern) but one has to wonder if they have some kind of deal with Apple and that line in the table just happened to accidentally drop.

    I’m starting to get worried in an Orwell sort of way, and I know I’m not the only one.

  • BobP

    About two side points you make at the end of your post.

    1. I don’t think Buzz flopped because of privacy issues. Not entirely. The wave of coverage about that certainly didn’t help. But I think Buzz was already dead in the water before that. In my opinion, Buzz’s biggest problem was just that it isn’t easy to look at and grasp what it is. I think you can look at FB and Twitter and figure out in a moment or two what is basically going on. Buzz didn’t have that. That’s gonna make the odds a lot longer. Man, the original Google search page was such a fine example of simple, clear, functional user interface. Buzz? Not so much.

    2. If Google starts putting a Google Profile atop search results for any given person, I think that is a step outside its core mission. A small step, sure, but a step nonetheless. It’s putting something atop the list of results for my search not because of relevance, but because it is beneficial to Google’s other aspirations — outside of being a search engine.

    • but if relevance is looking for a person….

      • I liked Leo’s recommendation for Google to place results to personal profiles at the top of the list. I don’t see it happening, though. After all, it *is* – as BobP says – a (I’ll say huge) step for Google to take. It seems to negate its claim to providing “non-partisan” search results. Important / relevant is what is talked about / linked to. Not what I (or anyone else deems should be the sanctified result). It sure would make things easier, though…

        Going this route would also open up a can of worms for Google in terms of having to verify profiles (people calling themselves “the real…” like @therealdvorak on twitter) comes to mind in this regard. You, Jeff, have pointed out that there are numerous Jeff Jarvis with different backgrounds. Which one should Google place at the top of the list? The one that ist searched for with the appropriate additional operand / tag (“Jeff Jarvis buzzmachine” vs. “Jeff Jarvis Jazz” …).

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  • This ‘disliked’ like button. Who is it disliked by? Yes, tech people that understand it, but what % of the userbase is that?

  • I don’t think Buzz’s issue was at all to do with mixing public and private. It was to do with mixing e-mail with news aggregation. Two different functions belonging to two different sites. I log onto e-mail to get work done, I log onto Facebook / Twitter / G-reader to relax and read articles / feeds. That’s the fundamental issue.

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  • Diaspora has been working on money and publicity, whereas other open source projects that are doing the exact same thing have actual working code:

  • This has made the whole public sphere and a/the public so much clearer to me! With an exam on this stuff on Monday – I’m so greatful you’ve made this distiction clear to me so thank you – great stuff!!

    • Pssst. In the exam, spell grateful correctly.

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  • This is, by far, the most intelligent & level-headed view of the Facebook debacle I’ve seen to date.

    I’ve also been dumbfounded by the venom spewed by many against Facebook and struggled to understand why. Facebook’s confusing privacy controls & policies seemed to certainly play a part. But why the caustic vitriol, the seething hatred?

    Because they confused sharing with publishing. That’s one of those conclusions that sounds so obvious when you hear it, but is very difficult to discern from the beginning. As you mention, this helps to explain the tremors around Google Buzz also.

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  • Lance5694

    I don’t think the company understands its users in the slightest. Sure, the company does a great job with its target audiences: mainly college students and young adults. I don’t think the company has completely thought through the actions that it is taking and how its user will be affected by them. I don’t think the company ever considered the possibility that one day, because of corporate decisions, Facebook may just become another online fad that ultimately becomes outdated or disliked by the public. As a college student, I can tell you that of my 400+ friends, that when Facebook changes its layout, privacy settings, and such, more than half of those friends appear on my feed, expressing anger and frustration over such sudden decision making. The company is trying to control us too much…we no longer have that “privacy” and “freedom” that we originally admired about Facebook. When I post a comment, photo, link, status update, etc., I expect that all my friends might possibly see that…I don’t expect that information to be accessible to the entire world…of course, my Facebook isn’t all too interesting so that doesn’t really worry me in the end! I definitely agree…Facebook has crossed a line…it better rethink what its focal group want before it just becomes another MySpace (washed up social networking site).

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  • I can tell you that of my 400+ friends, that when Facebook changes its layout, privacy settings, and such, more than half of those friends appear on my feed, expressing anger and frustration over such sudden decision making. The company is trying to control us too much…we no longer have that “privacy” and “freedom” that we originally admired about Facebook.

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