NativeHQ’s take on Facebook, in the Western Mail today

Here in Cardiff we keep a close eye on the Western Mail, so thanks to David Williamson for including my views on Facebook in his wide-ranging piece published today:

Carl Morris, a digital media consultant at Cardiff-based NativeHQ, thinks Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the internet equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife – a site that provides every tool you could want.

While he respects the achievements of its founders, he compared Facebook to a “walled garden” with its corporate-controlled environment.

He said people should remember that the site is a business which makes its money by appealing to advertisers.

“People think that when they join Facebook they become Facebook’s customer but you’re not the customer – you’re what’s being sold,” he said.

While I stand by David’s faithful quotation of my words, such an articles can only ever be an introduction to the topic at hand, particularly where the practical use of technology is concerned. So although generally critical of Facebook’s failings in the article, I do make fairly regular use of it – both in my work as a digital media consultant and personal life.

As with any tool, where, how or even if we use Facebook on a project depends on the objectives. In technology there is no perfect tool for every application, only pros and cons to any choice.

Incidentally, I would have to disagree partly with one of the article’s quotations from Prof Chris Price of Aberystwyth University:

“I don’t worry about Facebook at all,” he said, adding that he is not surprised people are turning to the social network to send messages to their friends instead of using a single e-mail account. But he said he does not expect e-mail to die, instead becoming the medium for professional communications.

The professor said: “In some ways it’s quite a sensible split.”

He also expects people to have multiple identities online to reflect the different nature of their relationships in real life.

“People talk about having one Facebook account for their friends and another which is the one their parents can look at,” he said.

Yes, people do have multiple identities online and have excellent reasons for doing so. (Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly failed to emphasise this fact, arguably because it drives Facebook’s growth and chimes with his philosophy.)

But don’t create multiple personal accounts! There’s no need, it’s potentially confusing and certainly creates more work for you. There are multiple ways of controlling visibility of your posts, photos and other content on the basis of individual people and friend lists, via what Facebook calls the privacy settings.

Another point I made to David at the Western Mail, which unfortunately didn’t make it to the final article, is that web services such as Twitter and WordPress which default to everything public can be said to possess – paradoxically maybe – better privacy policies than that of Facebook. They have fewer privacy settings, it’s very clear that your posts will be findable on the web, therefore you as a user have a clearer idea of who can read your posts. And if you’re not comfortable with something being on the web at large (rather than an ill-defined semi-public like your Facebook friends), you won’t post it in the first place.

Of course, in practice, privacy is a wider issue than software settings.