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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

16 January 2013

In the early hours of this morning, Mark Zuckerberg, 2011 Time Man of the Year, announced a significant addition to the Facebook platform, and thus their business model.
They announced Graph Search - an integrated search engine that lets you search the web, your friends' timeline history and filter your friends based on sex, interests, workplace etc.
It makes stalking that much easier, and once again stretches the outer limits of your friends' lenient privacy settings.

What makes Graph Search different from using Google/Bing/Yahoo is the data that Facebook has at their disposal.
Google uses a combination of quantitative details to filter your search results - Chrome browser history, browser cookies, search habits, Gmail/Maps/GReader keywords, algorithmic wording and general popularity on the wider internet.
Facebook, however, has much more 'personalised' data on you. They know your interests, what you share, what you 'like', what ads you click on, where you attend on the weekend, and much, much more. They can also tailor search results based on what your friends' interests are, not to mention the ability to search things amongst your entire friends' timeline histories.

Here is where this Graph Search will meet a tragic flaw. It is almost entirely dependent on the transparency of its users. It is dependent upon how much information they disclose, how much they make public and how active they are.
If people don't publicize their relationship status, or workplace, or education, or 'like' every stupid thing they can it work?
Why, it can't!

Notice the subtle changes to discourage you from being an anti-social brute; the practical 'remove friend' button has been replaced by the tabooed 'unfriend' button. 'Post' has become 'Share', it is now visible if you see a message but not reply to it...I'm sure you can pick out many more just by examining your Home page.
It's almost as if Facebook is conditioning us to be nicer to each other. Aw shucks, Zuckerberg.

Is it me, or is Facebook's business model, much like Apple's, gaining more and more resemblance to socialism? Let me explain my wacky train of thought.
It's one of those social models that would only work if everyone got on board with it. Kind of like a Tragedy of the Commons but in reverse. Facebook, like Apple, had created an ecosystem where each piece of the puzzle fits nicer the more pieces that there are.
Everyone has an iPhone? Perfect, we can share iOS-only documents, single-platform apps, etc.
Everyone has Facebook? Perfect, the more of my friends that are on it, the more likely I am to join. My Facebook experience is heightened by the activity of friends, and vice versa. No one wants a desolate News Feed (although it is better than a trivial one).
These are, in theory, the perfect political system, the perfect technological ecosystem and the perfect social network. However, if everyone doesn't play ball, they break down. As more people break away, more will do so.
Utopia becomes Fruitopia which becomes Dystopia.

Today's Daily Quota is an article from late 2011 that had predicted just this move by Facebook. This article discusses some of the strengths and relative weaknesses of the Internet's Big Four - Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. It discusses how each will try to gain ground on each other, and attempts to predict how it will turn out.
It's a very, very interesting read. In retrospect, a lot of the hypotheses have proven to be true.


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