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Thursday, 25 June 2009

Facebook continues to demonstrate the benefits of server-side application hosting with a plan to enable finer control of postings through a new drop-down on a newly-renamed 'Publisher'. Online journal Read Write Web says "the move could lead to some of the most exciting developments we've seen yet from the world of social media" and goes on to raise the alarm over possible public postings of thought-to-be private messages.

Read Write Web's test run of the new interface was inconclusive. In reaction to the article, Facebook contacted the journal to clarify some points, including in its missive the advice that

Your Publisher Privacy will stay at whatever you have set as the default. In addition, the first time you try to share something with the privacy control set to "Everyone," you'll be asked to confirm that this is what you want to do. If it's not what you want to do, you'll be able to change your setting before publishing.

The first time you change the setting on the Publisher control, you'll be asked if you want to make the new setting your default, and you'll be given a chance to do this in-line. You can also change your default at any time by going to the Privacy Settings Page and clicking on Profile. From there, scroll down to "Publisher Control Default" and choose what you would like as your default privacy setting.

If this is the case, there seems to be less reason for alarm than the journal allocates to this new development. Nevertheless, it is clearly an attempt to outfox Twitter, which has been making inroads on Facebook's demographic by positioning itself as a public publisher.

Selecting the name 'publisher' for the 'What's on your mind?' field is canny and alerts us to the real fact that we are now all content creators.

But changes have been happening continuously. It was only a few days ago that Facebook added a set of 'Attach' icons to the publisher to allow you to post different things, such as photos, videos, and links. Previously, these icons appeared when the publisher fields was clicking on.

Read Write Web apologised in an update for raising the alarm but added that it felt more communication is warranted in the present case, as it was in the case of vanity URLs, which was rolled out a couple of weeks ago. The journal's overreaction is probably simply a case of a public vehicle wanting to be seen to go in hard against a powerful entity in the online sphere, for fear of being labelled out of touch. It's hard to blame them, considering the uproar that Facebook's News Feed created when it was introduced in 2006.

Not all comments were uniform in sentiment. Commenter JeanAnn says that she is "happy about Facebook opening up some" as she uses the site in her professional capacity. Angela Hursh asks how the change will affect those, like her, who post using mobile devices.

Presumably Facebook will introduce some sort of new interface element to cater for such cases. However it will be interesting to see if the outcry against this move will be as significant as it has been in the wake of past changes.

Certainly "it's hard to imagine there isn't going to be a backlash" as Read Write Web's Marshall Kirkpatrick writes. But how big? And isn't it time for Facebook to release updated membership figures so we can gauge how Twitter has impacted on its viability.

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