Facebook Wants You To Like This – All Over The Web

Does Facebook have a problem with commitment? Or, on the flipside, has it fallen in like so hard that it wants to own both the word and the concept all over the Web?

There are a couple of ways to look at this week’s announcement that the Facebook fan page will soon be a thing of the past. Instead of clicking to become an actual fan of a brand or company – that is, really engaging with it – we’ll only be able to “like” it the same way we do personal updates.

I think of “liking” something, in Facebook terms, as fairly tepid, even lazy. Sure, it’s more natural, as Facebook executives point out. They say users click to “like” something twice as often as they become a fan of a page. But, to me, it’s the social media equivalent of a greeting card. It’s what you do when you have no time or can’t think of anything much to say.

So, why the thumbs up for like? Clearly, Facebook intends to create more opportunities for corporate advertisers. “Liking” a brand lacks the psychological hurdle of becoming a fan, and users can “like” the page’s content also, so the move will presumably expand page interaction and ad revenues. AdAge has a summary of the implications here. It’s not without problems, and there will surely be confusion among both users and marketers.

My first response to the move was that it devalues and dilutes the relationship between a Facebook user and a favorite brand. True, it might actually be good for small businesses like, say, a creative PR firm. It’s easier to put out content that others endorse (however casually) than it is to generate thousands of fans. But, if I’m Coca-Cola, I want to know where my hardcore enthusiasts live.

But, Facebook has big plans for that “like” button. As developers have heard, Facebook wants to expand it throughout the Web. It has visions of browsers instantly “liking” all kinds of content virtually anywhere. That way, Facebook can funnel more engagement onto its pages and enhance the virality of just about anything. Once the “like” button is popularized outside of Facebook, it’ll be easier for users to find the “most liked” content – as well as the preferred products and services – in their areas.

So, Facebook becomes not only a social utility, but a search engine that harnesses the power of social recommendations, which can be a great tool for marketers, and a benefit for consumers. Most of all, it helps Facebook. As TechCrunch and other sources explain it, Facebook will become more like Google.

Yet, while Google spends billions to index the Web, Facebook is trying to get the Web – or a big chunk of it – to index itself. And, what’s not to like about that?

Facebook Privacy Fix Is A Very Public Problem

As the mother of social networks, Facebook has struggled with privacy issues. It hasn’t gotten credit for many of the tools it offers, possibly because many users don’t understand them. So, the bar was raised a while back when CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised “a simpler model for privacy control.”

What happened instead was a very mixed reaction to its new privacy settings, and a fresh PR problem for the company. This time, it’s not just the user backlash that greets any Facebook change. There’s a measure of genuine confusion, doubt about its intentions, and a modest public relations blunder by Zuckerberg himself.

Given the build-up to the unveiling of the new privacy tool, the expectation was that Facebook would help users tighten their controls and limit the information they share with the world. Instead, the opposite message was communicated. It’s not all bad. The transition wizard forces you to examine your settings. That’s good, because many people, like me, signed up ages ago and have forgotten what we did then, if anything.

But instead of offering options based on a user’s current settings, the transition tool encourages its own recommendations. And, guess what? The recommended defaults nearly always urge sharing with “friends of friends” or “everyone.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not eager for “everyone” to see photos of my young daughter. But, that’s what Facebook recommends.

So does did CEO Mark Zuckerberg. To call attention to the change, Zuckerberg adjusted his own settings. Good PR move, right? But perhaps he didn’t realize that his family photos and contacts would be available to “friends of friends.” Or maybe he was just setting an example in following the recommended defaults. Facebook claims that he always meant to make certain areas accessible to everyone. Yet, mysteriously, after gawker.com and others rifled through them and posted many online, Zuckerberg’s settings were changed to make personal photos off-limits.

I can’t blame Zuckerberg for his about-face. Who wouldn’t want to keep their personal photos safe from prying eyes…and snarky gossip websites? The good news for users is that the online community has jumped into the breach. Within a day or two of the launch of the new settings, hundreds of blog posts appeared with clear, how-to tips and guidelines on protecting privacy and identity on Facebook. And, to be fair, Facebook’s put plenty of information on its own site.

In explaining the default, Facebook told Reuters that making updates available to everyone is “the way the world is moving.” That may be true, but in pushing members to open up online, Facebook is both becoming more Twitter-like, and seeming to bow to pressure to monetize the wealth of personal user information on the site. Both risk eliminating the very thing that many members found so appealing about it in the first place.

Facebook’s PR Dilemma: “I Can Friend Dead People”

So close to Halloween, how can I resist blogging about the latest complaint by Facebook users? I noticed it, um, in passing, earlier this week. A “reconnect” feature is part of the site’s new home page, but Facebook’s being haunted by the persistence of its algorithm. It automatically generates notices urging users to reconnect with dormant contacts. Inevitably, those include someone who’s deceased. As one user who was invited to reconnect with a friend who had died earlier in the year explained, “I hadn’t un-friended him, because that would be weird.”

But, what’s weirder – and genuinely distressing – is being invited to connect with a dead friend, not just once, but dozens of times. Others report irksome suggestions that they connect with ex-spouses or lovers, parents, or pets, prompting #FacebookFail hashtags on Twitter. As one mashable.com commenter put it, “I really don’t need Facebook to remind me that I’m ignoring you.”

Beyond the handful of #fail hashtaggers, there’s a broader issue here. What actually happens to profiles of Facebookers who have passed on? Who should have access, if anyone? Under pressure to spell out its privacy policy around these questions, Facebook took the opportunity this week to re-announce its memorialized profiles. They serve as a tribute to the deceased, but also solve the reconnect problem by taking the individual out of the Suggestions stream.

In a moving blog post that recounts the tragic death of a friend and colleague, Facebook’s Max Mon explains how the memorialized profiles work and urges friends and family of deceased users to contact them (with proper verification, of course) to set up a page. The beauty of the system is that only friends can see the profile or locate it in search, and sensitive content like contact information and updates are removed. No one can log into a memorialized profile, but friends and family can still post on the profile Wall in remembrance. If a family wants a profile taken down, it will be.

Facebook’s move to outline its policy in greater detail not only shows sensitivity, but it’s good public relations and good business. It seems to be ahead of its social networking competitors in offering a procedure that mirrors real-world mourning and remembrance, while protecting the privacy of those who cannot do it for themselves.

But, as one poster suggests, you can’t really blame the Facebook algorithm for not knowing that someone has died…or that you broke up with them six months before. And, wouldn’t it be far creepier if it did?

Last Night A Twitter Saved A Life

The social media thing can seem frivolous at times…after all, we’re not talking about saving lives, right?

Wrong.  Yesterday, actress and celebrity Twitterati Demi Moore reportedly helped stop a possible suicide attempt by a woman who tweeted her intent to cut her arm to kill herself. (I admit I follow mrskutcher, and even saw the comment in question, but assumed it was part of another conversation, so I missed its seriousness.)  But the episode is another illustration of the power and immediacy of Twitter, and along with other recent events, it highlights the  difference between the Facebook and Twitter communities.   Ironically, the gap between the two has widened since Facebook’s recent redesign, which ostensibly made it more Twitter-like.

From my recent explorations of Twitter, the communities are very different from a user perspective.  Nick O’Neill did an interesting comparison that noted, among other things, that Facebook users expect to talk with one another about celebrities and brand, whereas on Twitter, there is always the possibility of two-way interaction, like the Demi Moore drama.  For my money, Twitter is far more business-focused, self-referential, and potentially more useful, particularly since it tends to involve people I haven’t met.  It’s grabbed the celebrity and corporate brand followings, as well as a vibrant, sophisticated and very eclectic community of techpreneurs, consultants, thinkers, writers, and many others who use it to promote their businesses, brands and projects.  Yet, as a meritocracy, Twitter will punish those who spam or overtweet, so it tends to self-regulate.

Facebook, by contrast, with its huge community, is still a far better gauge of what’s popular, what’s happening, and what constitutes real personal interaction among social groups. But, to my knowledge, it hasn’t saved a life.

Facing Up To The Competition

As the world knows, Facebook is planning to unveil another redesign this week. We were able to preview what users will see on their home pages at our offices last week, courtesy of Facebook, and of course we plugged into the live blogging of its news briefing.  Though the early reviews are mixed, to us the changes seem pretty simple, and timely.  The newsfeed will take front and center,  it will be updated in real time, and the 5000-friend limit will  go away. Sound like a Twitter-killer?  It’s probably more likely that the redesign will hurt FriendFeed, but the Twitter influence is clear.  Twitter is how users engage with celebrities and large companies, and Facebook apparently wants a big piece of that action. If you can’t buy it, why not build it?