Facebook Email Fail: The Aftermath

The number of links to my little blog post over the past few days has been pretty impressive.

The Facebook email imbroglio seems to have mostly blown over now. And Facebook, after initially suggesting that users were too stupid to check their nested folders for messages (!), seems to have realized the problem was theirs and is working to fix it. Hopefully they’ll do some better QA after this.

The lesson I take away from all this is that despite the rise of social media, one little blog can still make an impact.

Also, MSNBC has some tips on what to do if you’ve been affected by this.

Bad Facebook, No Cookie For You

As was widely reported, Facebook pro-actively made some changes to users’ email preferences recently: forcing the default email address for every user to switch to an @facebook.com address and displaying it to all their friends, regardless of what the user had previously chosen.

News quickly spread and most people (myself included) quickly changed their e-mail setting back to what it had been before Facebook forced the change. Annoying, but a minor inconvenience, right?

Maybe not. Today, a co-worker discovered that his contact info for me had been silently updated to overwrite my work email address with my Facebook email address. He discovered this only after sending work emails to the wrong address.

And even worse, the emails are not actually in my Facebook messages. I checked. They’ve vanished into the ether.

For all I know, I could be missing a lot more emails from friends, colleagues, or family members, and never even know it.

F*** you very much Facebook.

If you’ve got my contact information in your phone or address book, please check to make sure you’ve got the right email listed?

UPDATE 7/1: Greetings, CNET readers. Thanks for stopping by.

Facebook: A New Google or a new AOL?

As the dawn of Facebook as a publicly-traded company breaks, a few thoughts amidst all the hype.

It’s the beginning of a whole new chapter for Facebook, and I’m not so sure that their road will be as smooth as some have predicted. Robert Scoble, for example, thinks Facebook could be a trillion dollar company in five years.

Well, it could happen. But for Facebook to continue that kind of trajectory, they’re going to need to sustain a huge amount of growth. There’s only a few options that will get them there at that kind of scale. The most obvious are either successfully ramping up their number of users, or successfully ramping up revenue per user.

New markets, and loads of new users in those markets, are possible. China’s problematic, but India is certainly in play, as well as plenty of other nations. Can one social network can serve the needs and interests of so many different cultures? I have my doubts, but it could happen if Facebook invests enough brainpower into internationalization and localization of their site. (Hint: content translation is the start, not the end, of that journey).

If they can’t grow revenue enough through new members, then there’s always the path of extracting more revenue from the userbase. Which means either more advertising or finding things that users are going to be willing to pay Facebook for. This is where things get more problematic. For one thing, there’s only so much advertising users are willing to put up with. And while I’m sure Facebook would love to do more with Facebook Credits, to date they haven’t had much success on that front.

And there’s one other thing to consider when it comes to advertising. Competition. Facebook isn’t the only game in town when it comes to digital dollars. Google is right up there as well.

Advertisers now have more choices for where to direct their digital dollars – which means Facebook (and Google for that matter) will have to do more work to get and keep those advertisers. The news that GM is dropping all Facebook advertising is a clear sign that they are not going to be able to just sit back and collect cash.

It’s great for those of us in marketing. Not so great for Google and Facebook’s profit margins.

And this is where Google has an advantage over Facebook. Advertising is their cash cow, but they have had time to grow and diversify in ways that Facebook hasn’t. As big a success as Facebook is, they’re much more of a one-trick pony than Google.

Facebook is going to have a huge IPO and a great run in the near term, no question about it. But there’s still a long road before them, and no guarantees. Remember that AOL was once valued at $160+ billion. Where it is today?

Online Privacy Is Not An Oxymoron

It’s hard to put together a blog post on Facebook and privacy when Stowe Boyd has already said pretty much everything I wanted to say, and said it far better than I.

Still, after seeing several friends severely cut back their Facebook presence or outright leave Facebook altogether, I though I’d have my say.

Ever since the Internet has been around, the concept of sharing not with the world, but with a select subset of the world, has been a huge part of the fabric of the social web. It still is. Wanting to share information via a website with a chosen set of people is not the same thing as wanting to share that information with everyone on the Internet (plus major search engines as well). Telling someone “well, the world has changed, get over it” is a crappy, unhelpful, and disrespectful response.

It all gets down to control over your information. If you set up a website based around the idea that you can share information with only a select group of people (and yes I am looking at you, Facebook) then don’t be surprised if people get pissed off when you change your mind and decide that catering to advertisers is more important than user privacy.

It’s why Gowalla and Foursquare are popular — because users are in control of what they share. Twitter too, for that matter. In all three cases, what’s private or public in those services is simple to understand, and the rules don’t change.

Complexity — especially when it comes to privacy — breeds distrust. Simplicity is always better.

Which, perversely, is why “if you want it private don’t put it on the Internet” makes an appealing argument to some (especially Valley geeks). It’s simple, clean, binary — everything geeks like. And most of the people who make it also operate from a position of high privilege. What I mean by “privilege” is that they are well-educated and well-connected people who do not need to worry about where their next job or paycheck is going to come from, have stable homes and personal lives, and should their privacy be breached in a serious way, they have the ability and resources to get as much assistance as they need in repairing the damage.

The world isn’t binary though. And not everyone has as much privilege in their lives that they can afford to be cavalier about their privacy.

I don’t know whether Facebook will succeed in their desire to become the one true arbiter of the Social Web (and make billions while they’re at it) or not. Short-term, they probably will do very well for themselves. Over the long haul, though, I’m not so sure. Privacy still matters.

I am still on Facebook, although I’ve locked my settings down as much as Facebook will allow, removed some information about myself, and cut back on my friends list. What happens next will depend on Facebook. Keep screwing with my sense of control and I may well join the list of people who’ve bid Facebook farewell.

Colliding Worlds

Facebook friends photo grid
Image by dan taylor via Flickr

So this morning, up pops in my feed reader a blog post by my friend Jason about a Halloween Bar-B-Q Bar Mitzvah.

OK, nice post about the food at a recent Bar Mitzvah he went to and how much more fun it was than the standard Bar Mitzvah (the menu is definitely much more interesting than the standard Bar Mitzvah!). The brain-twisting part (for me) was that I also knew the mother of the kid involved; Laura and I went to high school together and we recently reconnected on Facebook. She’s been posting updates about the party planning for weeks. I knew that she and Jason knew each other (they’re both NJ-based foodies with an IBM connection) but it didn’t occur to me that he was actually going to the party.

Most of the people who actually read this blog will probably just shrug and say, so what? For the segment of people that have adopted social media tools and integrated them into their lives, this kind of public intersection is pretty much a non-story. Having spent my last weekend back home in NY and talking to a lot of people who are not part of the adoption curve, though, I’m reminded that there are plenty of folks for whom blogging a kid’s Bar Mitzvah or finding intersections between different worlds via Facebook is completely alien territory.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wherein I Am A Dorky Fangirl

I was puttering around on Facebook this morning, and it occurred to me that I might want to set up a Fan page for one of my favorite food writers, Michael Ruhlman. So I did (you may need to be on Facebook to see that link).

There’s not much content there yet other than a brief blurb, photo, and link to his site, but I’ll work on it as I have time. Please feel free to join and add stuff if you’re so inclined!