Mar 24

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Changing Attitudes Towards Privacy

Andy Kessler just did a good profile on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook in the Wall Street Journal. (The WSJ has it behind a paywall, but Andy put a copy on his site.) There's a lot of good stuff in the article, but the bit I wanted to call out was about the turnabout in acceptance of Facebook's Newsfeed feature:

Facebook created a service known as Newsfeed, which caused a strange stir among its users. Newsfeed takes all the information on the site for each person and computes what is the most "interesting" about them, which translates into what is now a very primitive news ticker, but is headed toward being complete stories.

"Before Newsfeed, basically you had to go and you kind of look at people's profiles you wanted to check up on, but there was nothing to tell you what was the most interesting stuff. Now as soon as they log in, people get a sense of what is going on in their world more efficiently," Mr. Zuckerberg says.

Lots of Facebookers didn't like what felt like an electronic stalker reporting on their every move. When Newsfeed launched in September of 2006, Mr. Zuckerberg faced a huge backlash from angry users. This would test any CEO, let alone one whose peers were just starting law or business school.

Mr. Zuckerberg took the protests in stride. "That's just something that goes along with being revolutionary," he says. His confidence paid off....

And then, people's opinions changed, Mr. Zuckerberg explains: "I would hear 'Man, early on I was freaked by Newsfeed and now I don't know how I can live without it.' We want to build good things, and that's the cost of doing it. The net effect was really positive.'

This is part of a larger trend towards the attention economy (which, not incidentally, was the theme of last year's Etech conference.) The idea that people might want to conspicuously display what they are up to, moment by moment, at least to their friends, has hit the big time right now with twitter but it's been cropping up all over the place. Take a look at jaiku, a Finnish startup with a very similar idea. (But unlike twitter, which sends out SMS messages about what you're doing to your contacts, jaiku integrates it into your phone's address book, so you can see what someone's doing before you call them. Jaiku does also have a web interface, but I believe it was really designed for the phone use case.) And Seth Goldstein, who started AttentionTrust last year to put the idea that what we pay attention to has value, and that ought to belong to the user rather than to sites who mine and monetize our behavior, now has a new startup in the space,, that he's going to be unveiling at the O'Reilly Radar Executive Briefing on Monday.

What's particularly interesting too is that on the one hand we have the idea of promiscuous display, but as Mark Zuckerberg points out in Andy's piece, he believes that one of the big factors in Facebook's success is the granular control that it gives you over who can see what you're doing. So there's a lot of good thinking going on in this space right now, and we should be expecting a lot more innovation.

tags: web 2.0  | comments: 1   | Sphere It

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Comments: 1

  PendulumSwinger [03.26.07 03:41 AM]

A lot of these privacy violations are only ignored because people are unaware of them. But none of those users consented to starring in an episode of Big Brother, and 'toleration after the fact' is not 'consent before the fact' however Mr Zuckerberg spins it.

AOL released anonymous search results and as soon as people became aware of what was happening, AOL faced a huge backlash.

Privacy is a pendulum, and it's swinging back.

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