fast-growing social media site with 39 million active members, took a controversial decision last week. It decided to make all its member profiles public. This means they can now be Googled by anybody, even non-members. Facebook has become the preferred social media site for many, thanks to the privacy controls it allows its members. Members can decide how much information they want to display to other members. Therefore, the public listing may bring some uneasiness into the network.
Thus, members who want to share their profile with all Facebook members will actually end up sharing it with the world (of course, members can use privacy settings to nullify the move). The profiles (including the pictures) will show up in most search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN Live in a few weeks. Facebook's engineer, Phil Fung, wrote on The Facebook Blog on Wednesday, "We're expanding search so that people can see which of their friends are on Facebook more easily. The public search listing contains less information than someone could find right after signing up anyway, so we're not exposing any new information, and you have complete control over your public search listing." Clearly, Facebook has ambitions of becoming a 'people finder'.
There are many start-up social media sites in the country, which are also getting adequate attention from venture capitalists. Privacy has been a key concern for Indians haunted by stories of cyber-stalking and worse on these sites.
BigAdda, the social media site of Reliance Entertainment, which has 400,000 members, has privacy features like 'private scribbles' for personal messages and options to hide one's profile or show it only to friends. Siddhartha Roy, COO of BigAdda, says, "We are not a publisher but a platform, and it is a very private space. We only consider features that are acceptable to consumers."
Campus 18 (currently in beta or testing phase) is yet another social media site. It has been developed by Tangerine Digital, which is a part of the TV18 group. Founder Puneet Johar says, "The search can be a good tool for people who are looking to network openly. But users should be given a choice on how their information will appear."
Not many industry insiders believe that Facebook's move will directly benefit advertisers. However, the increase in traffic could certainly gain them more advertising mileage. Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director, digital services, Ogilvy & Mather, says, "Enabling external search will increase the involvement of people (on Facebook). It will only make more marketers interested and (compel them to) look at Facebook seriously."
Facebook's opening up, if successful, could lead other players to emulate the model - leading to a vast index of individuals on the web. Google hasn't made its popular social media site, Orkut, a part of its search. But MySpace profiles are already public and so are professional profiles on LinkedIn, but only partially. Going by the trend, 'People Search' may become the next web phenomenon to watch out for.
What about the members? After all, now they will have to be careful about the kind of information they share on Facebook. Chris Stevens, in an article on the UK website of 'Telegraph', wrote, "Facebook was originally designed for students and, since students thrive in this kind of social minefield, it was perfect. But what about the meaningfully employed? How can we keep our jobs, friends and relationships intact while still enjoying Facebook?" That's a question many members will be seeking answers to.