The Future of Sharing on Facebook: A Hybrid Public/Private Model

After Facebook’s press event yesterday announcing public profiles and the real-time home page “stream,” I briefly chatted with Mark Zuckerberg about the future of sharing on Facebook. Essentially, Mark said things are headed toward a hybrid model in which some information shared by users can be private and some information shared by users can be public, depending on users’ preferences.

This direction means users will need to think in new ways about sharing on Facebook. Historically, sharing on Facebook has been managed through Facebook’s robust privacy settings, with most of the default settings being set relatively strictly (usually limiting access to most information to others in your school or regional networks). Now, Facebook users will also have the option to easily share some information much more openly – even completely publicly for the whole world (and search engines) to see if they so choose.

While Zuckerberg said Facebook is still working on the user interface that would make such sharing settings robust and easy to use, these changes are going to have significant implications for the nature of sharing on Facebook.

Whereas to date sharing on Facebook has been largely symmetrical (or bi-directional between two people), now it could become increasingly asymmetrical (you’re following U2’s updates, but U2 is not following yours, and so on). This means that the characteristics of the average piece of information showing up in the stream is going to change: whereas to date Facebook users have seen private updates from their real friends (at least in the confirmed bi-directional relationship sense) in the stream, now users might see a mix of private friend updates, public friend updates, and public fan updates.

For example:

  • Private friend update: “Jenny just posted photos from her trip to grandma’s house this weekend: [1] [2] [3]”
  • Public friend update: “Jonathan New blog post: My Favorite New iPhone Apps”
  • Public fan updates: “Bobby Jindal just added a new video”

What implications will this have for the culture of sharing on Facebook?

I don’t know how exactly Facebook is going to blend these types of updates in the stream, because neither the new home page nor updated privacy controls have been launched yet. A lot depends on how it’s executed.

But while Facebook is certainly a unique case, Twitter is probably the closest analogy as an asymmetrical communication platform – though MySpace is certainly relevant in many ways too. Will Facebook become more like Twitter in terms of why information is sometimes or often shared?

It will be interesting to see how Facebook users adapt their information sharing habits given the new more open ways that information will flow across Facebook.