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A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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I made the wrong choice with Facebook

Posted on Monday, September 26th, 2011 at 12:17 pm. #

Factually incorrect cartoon

Yes, the new Facebook changes have caused a typical storm of user outrage: “You’ve changed things! How dare you!”

But I think this storm is different this time.

I’ve used last.fm to monitor the music I listen to for years now. With my permission, last.fm captures songs I listen to on my phone, my laptop, the computer connected to the hifi, and lists them. All 43,000 songs I’ve listened to since August 2006.

I cobbled together a stalkerfeed with available information about me on the internet. This includes a lot of information: but, again, information I’m happy to share.

Yet, the impending timeline – and the already-existing top-right ticker – has made many people I talk to concerned about what Facebook is doing. The idea of easily going back in history via someone’s timeline concerns people. And it even concerns ME. The fact Facebook now posts whenever I read articles by The Guardian is spooky and weird: I don’t want people knowing that stuff, that’s too personal.

Using Media UK, I could flag up “xxxxxx is using Media UK”, “xxxxxx is using the job section of Media UK”, “xxxxxx is reading a job vacancy on Media UK” – which would flagrantly abuse privacy of my users. I won’t do that; but I worry that, if The Guardian does it, it’ll be seen as “normal”.

I now know of people who are now planning to stop using Facebook completely. Not just geeks like Dave Winer, or Nik Cubrilovic, but radio people (SomaFM removing “all like buttons for privacy’s sake“), and normal people who aren’t into this stuff at all, but just concerned about the future.

Which means I think I made the wrong decision when I moved to Facebook Connect for Media UK’s user system. And, doubtless, the next few weeks will be coding a new membership system, and discussion system, which no longer uses Facebook. And I was hoping to be coding new features, not replacements based on a lack of trust and transparency.

I felt the right thing to do would be to use Facebook’s system to handle user accounts. Seems I was wrong.

(Was I? I’d be grateful for your comments).

Later: Media UK has now changed its social media sharing buttons as a result of these, and other, comments.


David Lewis
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

You know, I’ve always been careful about what I’ve put online because I know it’ll be around forever. Despite this, the new Facebook timeline scares me as anyone can see what I was doing and saying in 2007 when I was a bit youger and a bit more naive.

Seriously trying to work out where to go with Facebook. I find it very useful for keeping in touch with good friends I’ve met around the world. Would quite like to download all my comments and delete them online, but that could be tough.

Robert Andrews
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Interesting stuff.
I deactivated Facebook at the end of last year. I didn’t ever get anything from it. Websites that require Facebook have missed out on my usage.
I operate in a kind of dead space, funnily enough – pre-dating Facebook, I still post my photos to Flickr, for example, where nobody sees them, certainly not my actual friends; they’re all on Facebook. But I diagnosed myself with information overload and something had to give.

Zuckerberg wants to acquire sharing data with so much granularity it will effectively replicate audio scrobbling and other media’s equivalent all on one site. Facebook is the only site that could do it – it is the largest, most mass “graph” out there.
It’s a bit freaky.
Because of that, I don’t have a burning desire to reactivate. But the timeline view seems kind of appealing, and the notion of assembling all this data about myself in some form that may be useful or representative seems interesting. It seems what they want to do is to build the ultimate lifestream, all with a bit of design class deployed by the UI guys they hired.
We’ll see.

@ F8: Can Facebook’s Social Discovery Set Media Alight? – http://paidcontent.co.uk/article/419-f8-can-facebooks-social-discovery-set-content-alight/
@ F8: Zuckerberg Wants Users’ Whole Lives, But To What End? – http://paidcontent.co.uk/article/419-f8-zuckerberg-wants-users-whole-lives-but-to-what-end/

commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I’m intrigued by the negativity of reaction. I think it’s a “straw that broke the camel’s back” situation. Feeling mildly uncomfortable about a faceless organisation having access to your personal information was the norm, but it didn’t stop people using Facebook. The new features are now gathering and redistributing personal information and distributing it to your friends.

If someone threatened to tell Nike that you were listening to Duran Duran on your lunch break, you probably don’t care. But if they threaten to tell your girlfriend, well then it gets in the way of your enjoyment of 80s cheese music – and that’s something none of us can stand for! What this backlash highlights is that privacy is more important locally than on the big scale.

Few of us are concerned about corporate espionage via our film taste, more of us are concerned about the backlash of Netflix telling our girlfriends that we actually don’t mind Pretty in Pink. Not that I do. It’s just an example! Promise!

Mike Nolan
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Will comment here rather than your Google+ link to this!

I quite like systems that allow multiple systems to be tied to the same account, and even the option of logging in directly by setting a username/password. That way if I ever choose to quit Facebook I can still login with, say, Twitter.

Dan Thornton
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Interesting post and I’ve got a lot of respect for you opening up the discussion, especially after we debated the use of Facebook Comments at the time.

The benefits of using Facebook Comments for a media owner are undeniable when it comes to minimising trollish behaviour due to the links to a ‘real’ persona, but Facebook have consistently shown that they’ll do things which screw around with user privacy without making the risks and problems explicit. Not surprising, as it’s in their own interest, and as Dave Cushman correctly said, the problems seem to come from the fact that they only seem to be able to monetise themselves as a pseudo-media company at the moment.

I still use Facebook a lot, and I’ve played around with integrating various apps which publish to it, but don’t see much value in them for anyone following me – I can curate what I want to share more effectively and without overwhelming people, and it’s not hard for anyone who really wants to see all my music or reading list to find last.fm or Google reader shared items etc.

Like Rob, I don’t post on any site which used Facebook Comments for a number of reasons, although I do still use it personally and for my own sites (plus client sites).

It’ll be interesting to see the repercussions of the latest changes, including the move to shove interactions into the top right, which has certainly affected my browsing habits to the point that I’ve started logging into the mobile version even on mmy laptop (it’s also appearing to load much slower now).

I think it all comes back to the hub and spoke model. I’m happy to have conversations on Facebook etc where necessary, but whereever possible I want to be using links and content for my own site, and ensuring any comments etc are part of that site. And I want to be able to ensure that I can protect the privacy and other aspects of anyone leaving a comment in line with the Ts and Cs I make available.

Andrew Bowden
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 1:17 pm

A few months ago I contemplated moving a site’s blog comments over to Disqus. After all it would be much easier to administer and would handle all that registration/user stuff.

What put me off was the thought of a key piece of functionality basically being beholden to one provider. What if they went under? Could I get my data back? What if something goes wrong?

The various negatives were too great and I put up with the fact that I’d just be doing more coding.

For me Facebook sits in the same bank. It’s the “what happens if…” scenarios, no matter what they are. At least if everything is under your control, be it be built in to a system like Movable Type or WordPress, or something you’ve developed yourself, then the risks and issues are yours to control.

That’s from a purely code point of view. I must say from a personal viewpoint Facebook is increasingly becoming a “hmm…” in my mind.

Chris Jackson
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Agreed there’s a bad whiff about this, and I’m no fan of Facebook for personal use. But Facebook’s latest innovation does have significant utility for many users.

For me, the right thing is to offer new Facebook features but make them entirely optional, and explain the implications very clearly to users, with a clear opt-out at any time.

That still means James will have to move to a different system for basic auth and discussion functions, but doesn’t mean the Guardian should drop Facebook sharing if they can explain them sufficiently clearly to users.

Steve Bowbrick
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 1:40 pm

The ticker, in particular, is making me feel uncomfortable but mainly, I think, because it seems like the polar opposite of the kind of ‘curation’ I do with Twitter (and also with G+/old Facebook). I enjoy deliberately selecting stuff that I think people will find interesting. Sharing everything I look at seems less like curation and more like a twitch. Likewise, I feel sure I’ll get less value from my friends’ tickers than from their lovingly selected linkfeeds. I’d love a refinement to link sharing, something that makes it more spontaneous, but I don’t think I’m ready for the real-time firehose yet…

Adam Bowie
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 3:01 pm

There seem to be two things here.

Like Steve, I’m not sure that the default behaviour of new apps taking advantage of new functionality in Facebook is the right way to go.

Spotify appears, by default, to post every song you listen to, to your Facebook wall. And likewise The Guardian’s app posts every article you read inside the app.

I know that you can either retrospectively “unpublish” items, and The Guardin’s app specifically includes that functionality in the app. But as Steve points out, we’re still left with information that’s perhaps of more interest to advertisers and the app designers than my friends (or at least what Facebook calls my friends).

I read lots of articles that I don’t post to Facebook or Twitter. It’s the exceptional ones that I do post.

And this is all on top of any privacy concerns – “Adam is reading lots of articles about testicular cancer…”

The timeline makes plain what was always there, but previously was just a bit hard to find. However, I’ve always been aware that what was posted on Facebook would always stay with them. That’s why I take the privacy settings quite seriously on the platform, however hard they sometimes make it.

As far as the commenting system goes, I’m afraid I never use Facebook. Although it makes it trivially easy to comment/join, I just don’t like devolving that much information to one organisation. And if it was my website, I’m not sure that I’d want to devolve that power either.

And especially not if that organisation is Facebook. Although I’m not quite at the point of deleting my account – the service certainly has its uses – I’m not in general happy at the way they’ve treated privacy issues over the years. In particular they’ve really not informed users enough, just launching new features and changing the rules as they go.

In fact, I daresay that Google has as much information on me as Facebook does. Indeed the information based on my search history is probably a lot more personal than Facebook holds, where I at least think about what I’m posting before I hit enter. Yet Google stays on the right side of the line and doesn’t seem to abuse its power.

However Facebook has just rubbed me up the wrong way. How about regular email communications? You know – from Mr Zuckerberg. That’d make a nice start.

I must admit that I do find it extraordinary when commercial bodies cede their operations to Facebook. If I see an advert that’s trying to drive respondents to a Facebook page rather than a website that’s fully owned and operated by that advertiser, then I do wonder “who’s wearing the pants” (as Americans would say) in the relationship.

Paul Easton
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 3:18 pm

I agree with Adam. I tend to avoid most Facebook apps and managed to turn off Spotify notifications last week. Sorry but I don’t really give a toss about what someone is listening to on Spotify (or their iPod) or where they happen to be at any given moment (still trying to turn off FourSquare or similar notifications).

As for those people whose timelines are littered with ‘games’ such as Farmville etc. – words fail me! Funny how they’re often the same people who find their account hijacked to send out spam and malware.

My overall experience with FB is a fairly good one. That’s probably because I try to keep my privacy tight – “Would you be happy with this person knowing your personal phone number and email address?” is a good guideline. Unlike some I know I don’t add everybody who sends a ‘friend’ request – especially when those FB friends we have in common are those who will add anybody and everybody. The same goes for following people back on Twitter – especially those who are obviously internet marketers and/or spammers (who usually stop following if I haven’t followed back within a few days).

While I can understand James’ reasons for using Facebook as a vehicle to enable people to use Media UK, I know an increasing number of people who are anti-Facebook.

I’m not yet sure Google+ is the way forward either – right now it doesn’t have anywhere near the same traction with the people I usually interact with on FB/Twitter.

David Nield
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I love Last.fm. why not just let Last.fm write a Facebook plug-in to appear on my Timeline? because Mark Z won’t own the data, that’s why. think they are going too far at the moment. they want to be the Internet, and they won’t be able to be.

James Cridland
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

David – there’s actually nothing to stop you from populating Facebook with your last.fm data. (You’ll notice I populate my own ‘stalkerfeed’ with it).

I dare say, however, it’s more difficult the other way round.

Brian Butterworth
commenting at September 26th, 2011 at 5:39 pm


Whilst 99.9% of your advice is very sensible – your posting about website optimization quite literally almost doubled my income – I have to say I was also uncomfortable about “giving away” all my comments to Facebook.

My main reason for not doing it to my site was that I automatically create links in people’s posting to link to keywords, and Facebook doesn’t support it.

But whilst I feel that Facebook probably won’t be “going away” any time soon, it just “feels” to me like they would make a sudden change that would effect my data.

James Masterton
commenting at September 27th, 2011 at 5:33 am

Well at the end of the day James, it is your website so you can incorporate whatever means of user authentication you choose. Given that the traffic on MUK discussions is currently less than that of a farm track, I always viewed the decision to plug into credentials that the overwhelming majority of users will already have was a very sensible and inclusive one. Moving away from that will mean I’ll have to formally register to participate in any MUK discussion, and to be frank I’ll have to really, really want to in order to do that.

Personally I’m of the view that people who shutter their FB accounts in a huff at every tiny change are automatically appointed the mayor of Getoveryourselfville, but then I’m the kind of person who will gleefully ensure the most outlandish thing possible is automatically posted to my timeline…

Off to listen to an impotence cure hypnotherapy tape on Spotify (it does exist) to see if anyone on Facebook notices…

James Masterton
commenting at September 27th, 2011 at 5:35 am

Oh yes, and I subscribe to the following philosophy on online privacy:


Barry Carlyon
commenting at September 27th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I think you should support multiple avenues of connection.

To be honest I did like the Facebook integration, but it doth make it Facebook only, granted it is unlikely someone doesn’t have a Facebook Account. But only using Facebook Connect makes it just a Facebook Extension.

To add to my G+ post: the internet is supposed to be open. I like the idea of using my sign in credentials elsewhere, but rather than Facebook Connect, perhaps open ID with a shedload of different providers is the way to go, as well as using oAuth providers (in the case of Twitter for example).

Support many avenues of connection.

Alistair MacDonald
commenting at September 27th, 2011 at 1:22 pm

If you are happy to continue with another service manage your comments and discussions then it might be worth having a look at disqus.com . It does deal with spam filtering but I can’t think how you can easily Police the real names restriction at the moment.

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