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This Month’s Social Media Backlash Whipping Boy September 12, 2006

Posted by David Card in Media.

Facebook’s in the news, both for a new feature misstep and for its plans to “open up” the network to users who aren’t still in college.

I was quoted a few times today, mostly to the effect of “Why wouldn’t they want to be a college network? That’s a hard-to-reach, highly desirable audience. Their CPMs would clobber MySpace’s.” I believe that, but I can also see how Facebook might want to make it a little easier to get into the network. A dot.edu address hasn’t been absolutely required anyway; you just needed an invitation from someone in the network. And Facebook has already moved hesitantly into high schools and alumni.

But just because more people might get into the network doesn’t mean Facebook can’t preserve exclusive circles. Yes, they’re going to have to work harder to do this and make more tools for that. But Facebook also used the “exclusivity” as an identity authenticator, which contributed to members’ confidence in posting personal info. I’m a little more nervous about how they’re going to preserve this.

Facebook’s “News” Feed — which summarizes changes and new events in your network — is actually an innovative and useful feature. Wunderkind founder — emphasize kind — Mark Zuckerberg argued with me six months ago about whether his brand of social network was “the most efficient way to find out what’s going on in your world.” Flipping through profiles is not particularly efficient; the new feeds are.

But Facebook screwed up royally in introducing the feature, and scared a lot of its users unnecessarily. (Nothing that was private actually got public.) But Facebook recovered fast and well. Grown-up companies don’t roll out such a big change without quasi-focus groups and controlled, limited releases that result in better messaging to their audiences. (Google ain’t grown up. The AOL search logs fiasco got folks fired.) Call it growing pains.

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