I’ve said numerous times that when you put something on the web, you should always assume that data is public, for the world to see. Up until now, Facebook was the exception – Facebook enabled privacy controls, enabling users to, while assuming their data could be public, add a layer of protection and assurance to that data since it would be stored in a silo’d environment. All that changed, in an incredibly significant way yesterday. At Facebook’s F8 developers conference, they announced a new way of integrating with the Facebook network, which would basically incorporate websites that choose to do so to become an instant part of the Facebook network. Now, not only will your Facebook profile follow you as you visit Facebook.com, but your Facebook profile will follow you from website to website, following you and bringing your friends with you throughout the entire internet. Facebook essentially just became the new Internet, which means my rules above now apply to Facebook as much as any website out there.

What you need to watch out for

Before it is assumed that I’m spreading a bunch of FUD, I want to be clear that the same privacy rules apply to the websites you visit as do on Facebook.com.  You might have noticed a new message as you log in asking you to opt out if you don’t want your information shared with these websites.  If you really have a concern you will want to look at these settings and change them.  However, even if you keep the information on, there are still requirements that will force website owners to get you to log in to Facebook before they obtain information such as your friend data or other more private information.  There is still some control.

What you do need to watch out for however is that what you put into Facebook.com could very well become a part of any participating website out there.  The same rules for the web now apply to Facebook.  If you don’t want others to know about it, don’t share it on Facebook!  I believe Facebook is anticipating that the world is becoming a much more open and forgiving place though – personally, I agree.  I call this the “small community effect”.  Basically, in a small community everyone knows who you are.  You all know each others strengths and weaknesses, and you’re able to help each other out because of that.  You’re able to talk, and everyone hears.  If you want out, just leave the community!

Here’s an example: I have many friends on Facebook that work for Facebook, Inc. and Twitter, Inc.  I do see private information all the time that isn’t meant for public consumption.  However, the minute I share that information to those it was not intended for I break that trust relationship with my friends, and all they need to do is unfriend me.  Now I no longer have a trusted relationship and my ties (and friendships) are broken.  When you have a small community there is a responsibility to trust one another, and it’s a much stronger bond than an anonymous internet.

Why This is a Good Thing

The internet just became a whole lot less anonymous than before.  It sounds scary, but it really isn’t.  When you are forced to identify yourself (and these identities will become more and more real as technology surrounding identity advances), you are forced to be real.  You won’t do things you would normally do when people didin’t know your name.  In a less anonymous internet it’s the anonymous people you have to worry about, and they are the ones that get forced to wear the Scarlet Letters when they are discovered.

Here’s the real advantage: now, rather than searching and hoping to find the right answers to your questions, answers will be delivered to you without you even having to ask.  You’ll be visiting your favorite brand’s website, and you’ll be able to see exactly what your friends that use that brand also like.  You’ll be pointed to other important and interesting things.  You could be watching TV and see what show all your friends are watching – often that can be much more interesting than having to just randomly pick what you aren’t quite sure would be good.  Not only that, but you have the opportunity to chat, communicate, and collaborate about these things that you like.

Facebook is encouraging us to be Social!  I think it’s time we all break out of our shells and take these real life relationships around the world and do something with them.  I’m okay with giving up a little information for that cause.  In the end social networking is about building real life relationships.  What a better way than to do that all over the web, wherever you go?

I’m going to spend some time over the next few days going over the details of Facebook’s new OpenGraph, what it is, and how it works (in a way you can understand).  I’d also like to compare it to Google’s SocialGraph API, a very similar API to what Facebook is doing.  I’d like to cover where the prior arts are, where Facebook could have done better (as in distribution and a less centralized architecture), and why I think they went the way they did.

In the end I think it’s okay to be at peace with this.  Everyone I’ve spoken to at Facebook intends to be good with this information.  Their entire purpose is to respect your privacy, while making the web a whole lot less anonymous and a whole lot more social.  So get on and be social!  Get on and share some things.  That’s a good thing!