Social Media Changes Blur Public/Private Divide & Tear the Space-time Continuum

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that this past week has been filled with spectacular changes in the world of social media. The changes seem to be crashing the private/public divide more so than ever before, with Google+, Facebook and, to a lesser-extent, Twitter, emulating one another as they wrestle for a bigger slice of the social media pie. But where does the battle of the social media giants this leave the rest of us users? (2010) Google vs Facebook: Slapfight! (2010) Google vs Facebook: Slapfight! Via Geek Word


Google+ kicked off the shenanigans by opening up to the broader public last Tuesday. The Australian reported findings from the comScore research firm, confirming that Google+ has 25 million unique visitors per month. PC Mag further reports that these users are mostly young men in the USA aged 25-34, as well as a large proportion of users in India. Well, a blog posted today on Google+ reports that it actually has almost 50 million users, that it is no ‘ghost town’ and that it is ‘not dying’. The blog post also takes a nice swipe at Facebook: ‘Facebook has been been losing some users due to some mistakes it has made with respect to user privacy and website changes… If Facebook doesn’t start making people happy they will probably go the way Myspace wen’t [sic] in the future’. The post is written by Martin Garcilazo, a computer science student, so I’m not too sure about the reliability of the data. Nevertheless, this information has already been shared over 100 times, including by Learn Google+ and TweetSmarter.

Google+ was supposedly launched as an ‘aggressive attack on Facebook’s domination in the world of social networking’. In response, Facebook’s latest overhaul was seen as an attempt to copy Twitter and Google+, although Facebook Engineering Vice President Mike Schoepfer tells Forbes magazine that the new Subscribe and Friends Lists had long been in the works.  Meanwhile,Twitter and Facebook seem to have some kind of symbiotic alliance which now allows people to tweet directly to Facebook. Leo Widrich from the Buffer Blog muses that this may possibly stop people making original FB posts.

The Business Insider reports that Facebook dominates 90% of the time users spend on social media (data by comScore). In this light, it is perhaps unsurprising that the first-cut changes that Facebook rolled out early last week (lists, the ticker) generated much criticism. Erik Sherman wrote on B-Net that Facebook was poised to lose its customer base by doing a poor job of ‘copying’ Google. On the 21st of September, Mashable‘s poll of the revamped Facebook newsfeed had received over 10,300 votes in the first day alone – and 73% of voters hated it (including my vote!). Ben Parr, Editor-at-Large at Mashable, posted an intriguing article about the impending changes soon to be unleashed, writing: ‘Facebook’s goal is to become the social layer that supports, powers and connects every single piece of the web, no matter who or what it is or where it lives’. This sounds as if Facebook was about to unleash the Skynet prototype.

Image Credit: Kennymatic (2009) Skynet for Dummies. Via Flickr

Wait a minute… Didn’t Skynet become self-aware back in April? No. It seems The Divine Prognosticator James Cameron had it wrong. Skynet took its first steps towards the enslave ment of humanity at the launch of Facebook (F8) on Friday Australian time.

Jokes aside, I’m wary about the Facebook changes (summarised here). And I’m not the only one. A poll of around 1,000 American users on SodaHead finds that 86% of them hate the upcoming changes to Facebook, with only IT workers, high-income earners and university students supportive of the functionalities that have been announced.

All the Facebook hoopla makes it seem as if the space-time continuum is about to be shattered. Luckily I have my flux capacitor handy, along with various other 80s pop cultural references to help me survive. While many users bemoan the changes, such outrage occurs every time Facebook rolls out anything new and then most people get over it, after many pundits point out that Facebook is free to use and whinging about functionality and layout issues is ironic and pointless. Then again, everyone knows Facebook is actually not free; users pay for its use through sharing their data.

Public profiles, private lives?

For many people, myself included, Facebook is mostly a private space where you’re sharing things with people you know (or once knew) offline. Brady Robards’ research shows that young people in particular see Facebook and other social media as private places to hang out, chatting more or less the same as if they were in their bedrooms. Zeynep Tufekci argues that Facebook is actually a quasi-public sphere, where both public and private norms of social interaction are being rearranged. (She cites the example of breaking up with someone – once a private affair, now partly played online out and announced via status updates to hundreds of friends.)

The Twitterverse is largely a public forum for information-sharing with people you have not necessarily met face to face. Building upon Malcolm Gladwell’s work in The Tipping Point, Charlene Gagnon describes Twitter as a user-generated form of culture where people share their connections, pass along information, sell their ideas or follow and extract information for their personal use. Diederik van Liere’s analysis of Twitter retweets finds that most people look to specific social media personalities who act as information filters and so retweeting information is often a vote of endorsement of quality, novelty or timeless of information networks. (His sample included 285 original stories posted on Twitter and retweeted 13,399 times.)

Time will tell what place Google+ will take in the social media realm and the private/public purposes it may eventually serve.

Social media services fit into different spheres of life and they have different audiences and advantages. The Facebook-Google+ wrestling match makes it seem as if they see the world as their personal Highlander. Until such time as the Great Advent of All Things Social Media Converge, please enjoy a super funny vid by College Humour that’s been doing the rounds.

Source: SodaHead (2011) Public Opinion Rejects Facebook’s Changes

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