As a researcher, I expect myself to make mistakes all the time. It’s sort of par for the course, and a great way to learn. You build little tests to try out social designs, learn, and move on. But before a company like Facebook is willing to deal with a huge firestorm of privacy issues, you’d think that they’d do the same. Well…maybe not.
By now, you’re probably familiar with Facebook’s recent move to automatically detect your identity as you move across web sites and allow you to Like any page without logging in. It set off all sorts of privacy alarms. But you know what? It stinks as a social design.
Try it. Go to CNN.com, look in the right column, and see how many of your friends have Liked or shared posts. Look at a popular ReadWriteWeb post, one with 1,238 Likes as of this writing, and see how many of your friends have liked it. None of mine have.
Fundamentally, this means that the web is a lonelier place for me. It’s like walking on a sidewalk on one side of the street, where it’s totally empty, and getting a glimpse that the other side of the street is crowded with friends chatting. The friends are there: they’re just not mine. I must be a loser.
This is a design problem with multiplicities: there are simply too many places on the web for my friends to Like and too few of my friends. There are even fewer of my friends who are active in social web apps like Facebook. If you had a personalized version of Digg that only showed you diggs from your Facebook friends, I’d bet things would get 1-3 diggs, max. There are some things you just need a crowd for.
Things only work at social network scale when the entire network can focus their attention on relatively few items. That’s why the News Feed works, but the global Like doesn’t. This leads to the interesting question of how you’d prototype this kind of design and decide that it does (or doesn’t) work, without rolling it out to the entire world.