Facebook opens it’s stream to the world (and plans on cashing in)

It started out with Mark Zuckerberg’s letter about upcoming changes (which had quite a few blah blahs about controlling your data’s privacy) focusing on dropping the regional networks and privacy-per-post, but somehow ended up very differently.
Who knows? Maybe the plan was to have this one slip through the community by sparking up the conversation about privacy-per-post, but Facebook also included an opt-out Privacy Settings wizard, which all 350 million users saw, making user’s Status Updates and Newsfeed items public.

Anyone who has a bit of User Experience knowledge knows what a long, boring privacy settings, opt-out form does to users – they just confirm or skip, whatever is easier to click. Most users don’t even bother spending the time tweaking their privacy settings, they probably wouldn’t bother opt-out either, and whoops their posts are now open to all.
Open to all means a lot of things, it means that posts are now open to anybody who finds you through another Facebook friend, but it also means that it’s indexable – any search engine or crawler can now tap into your Life stream.

And the search engines are all over it. According to Tech Crunch Bing will be getting access to Facebook public stream in early 2010. Google will only access Fan Pages at first, but I bet they will go out of their way, including paying cash, to index users’ streams.

It won’t be limited just to search engines, many applications will follow up. Up until now, using Facebook Connect, sites and desktop application had to get the user’s consent to get to his Newsfeed items, and they could only show the data to the user in an active session. Caching the user’s private data, for more than 24 hours, is against Facebook’s terms of use. Now, they would be able to get to the user’s Newsfeed without his consent, store it, analyze, and pretty much do whatever they feel works for them with this info. It would just be out there.

I guess the very legitimate discussion about this shift in the user’s privacy would probably go on and on inside Facebook and outside it, with many who will go against it, but it’s hard for me to believe that Facebook would take a step back. This is a huge opportunity for Facebook, and an important step before shooting for an IPO. “Selling” all this data, and creating an eco-system of developer’s around it, can probably turn out as a revenue hit and may bring Facebook to a point where it’s break-even or even profitable.
It’s also an interesting opportunity for publishers and application developers, who can increase engagement by displaying and aggregating Newsfeeds, if Facebook allows them.

4 thoughts on “Facebook opens it’s stream to the world (and plans on cashing in)

  1. Itamar Novick

    Facebook have already hit the Jackpot – they just don't know how to cash in yet.
    They will never be able to get end users to pay for their service.

    Among the different revenue options they have, I'm sure users would much prefer to see ads, even more aggressive ones, then have their personal lifes indexed so that, for example, their mother could learn all about their wild night at the bar yesterday, just by searching their name in Google.

    Reply
  2. Menno Besso

    One must ask himself whether Facebook users would prefer sacrificing some portion of their private information as an alternative to having Facebook turn into some form of pay-to-use site.

    The talk has been out the and rumors are anything but few and far between. Would Facebook inhabitants view losing a portion of privacy as a lesser evil or would both options drive them away.

    Facebook has to break even one way or another,the question stands whether both options mentioned have the potential of driving a significant portion of users away, and thus making both options unprofitable and therefor forcing Facebook into creatively finding less intrusive / costly methods of hitting the jack pot.

    Reply
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