Oh Facebook, when are you going to learn? When you've got over a third of a billion people using your site to basically fritter the day away, any tweaks are going to stir up your population. What are Facebookers saying about these new ones, then?
Mark Zuckerberg is obviously sensitive to the controversies that Facebook's previous attempts to adjust its terms and conditions and privacy settings stirred up, so he chose to announce the news in an open letter posted on the site, with an alert at the top of everyone's landing page today that links to the letter. In the few hours since the letter launched, there have been over 16,000 comments—a huge number, considering that the U.S. hasn't really woken up yet.
But before we get to the user comments—what's Facebook done now? On the face of it, not a lot, actually. The core decision the company has made is to demolish the "networks" feature of the site. As Zuckerberg notes, it made sense in the early days when the site was popular among school and college students, often keen to share or learn information only with people from their academic establishment. As Facebook's exploded, networks have grown to include businesses, esoteric groupings and even whole countries—essentially eroding the usefulness of sharing with a particular network. Mark puts a positive spin on the decision to abolish them by remarking "If we can build a better system, then more than 100 million people will have even more control of their information."
The solution is to have a much simpler privacy control: You can now share information with only your friends, friends of friends, or everybody. And there's a new, and extremely powerful, system—you can now decide on an individual update basis who gets to see your data. That's going to be very useful, though no doubt will quickly be abused by the kind of "Sarah said this dumb thing at school yesterday" comment, which "Sarah" won't get to see.
So. We know Facebookers are incredibly sensitive to tweaks made to how the site works, and we know they all tend to reveal their online personality pretty openly. How do they respond to this one? We took the most recent 10% of comments, and did some analysis—the text is shown in that stark word cloud up there. And the upshot? Facebookers seem to generally like this improvement. There are 133 uses of the word "love" in this comment sample, 83 "greats" versus only 8 "hates" and just 17 discrete uses of the word "no", though of course these could be being used in a different context.
While positive, this data doesn't sound like too much of a resounding thumbs-up though, especially since there's very little discussion about privacy concerns or the loss of networks. What then, among the spam adverts and side-arguments in the comments, are Facebookers really talking about? It's obvious, when you look at the wordcloud: They all want a "dislike" button. Yes, in the face of a potentially significant tweak to Facebook's privacy settings, the biggest response is to ask for a totally different and rather trivial service. Has Facebook's community suddenly gone all shallow and careless with their online data, trusting the site's decisions more than before? You certainly could argue that. You may even suggest that that's what the whole site is about anyway.
Losing the ability to form networks will certainly irritate some Facebook users, but it would seem a small price to pay to gain the enhanced privacy settings the site's now offering. But what we really need to watch for in the coming hours or days, is whether Zuckerberg really cares about what his community wants, versus what he thinks it wants: Will Facebook get a dislike button?