Facebook Removes Regional Network Privacy and Visibility Settings

Yesterday afternoon Facebook posted about how the site is growing beyond regional networks and how networks will no longer be part of the privacy settings. The rationale is that the company has grown beyond it’s previous boundaries and as such, “these networks too often represent large geographical areas—sometimes entire countries—that no longer accurately reflect people’s real-world connections”.

While I personally understand the challenges of managing geographic data, it seems strange that Facebook would eliminate regional networks. Yes, managing the countless regional networks that exist in the world is not easy, but ultimately this was one of Facebook’s greatest values. As I’ve described on countless occasions, one of Facbeook’s greatest opportunities is through leveraging regional data to optimize search results. Eliminating these regions doesn’t really make much sense.

Paul McDonald writes on the Facebook blog, “If you’ve ever created a group or event and set it so that only members of a certain regional network could join, that group or event will now become open to everyone.” What?!?! Doesn’t it make sense to limit an event to a specific region? Then again, Paul is most likely referencing the visibility settings of that event. In theory this makes a lot of sense as long as Facebook leverages this network data for setting geographical regions.

On Twitter one of the greatest weaknesses is that the site doesn’t differentiate between “Washington, D.C.” and “Washington DC”. The result is that developers need to build geographic filters that find similar locations and also account for misspellings. As I understand it, the networks are not being removed, instead they will simply have no impact on privacy and visibility settings. While scaling geographic networks is extremely challenging, I believe it’s one of the most important features of Facebook.

It’s important for the company to localize information, including geographic information, and include that data to help create more relevant search results. While Paul McDonald states that the “information will continue to appear in search results”, I hope it doesn’t mean that Facebook won’t continue expanding their geographically relevant features.

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