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By Steve Kelman

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Message to Facebook: Knock off the changes.

Alice Lipowicz has an article at about increased privacy risks posed by "Timeline," the new way Facebook is formatting people's Facebook pages.

Timeline is currently available as an option but will be automatic for all Facebook users soon. Apparently, somehow the new Timeline feature will make it easier for people to see your list of other Facebook friends, compared to the current formatting, even if you want to hide your friends to some or all other people.
I will confess that I was extremely confused by Alice's explanation and didn't really understand why the new formatting will create these problems. But maybe my confusion illustrates the problem with the new changes -- the second mandatory change in Facebook page formats in just the last year.
Facebook has become more and more complicated to use. You need to be careful about all these requests to participate in innocuous applications because signing up for the app means making all your personal information available to the company providing the app. Facebook doesn't exactly go out of its way to inform people of that. Now there is this issue Alice points out that I personally found confusing and nontransparent as well.
Second, the Timeline formatting adds changes that are unclear and don't seem to add any value. Somehow, posts and messages are now divided up (in Timeline) to a left and right-hand side of your Facebook page, but the distinction between what goes on each side is unclear. Indeed, I have seen a number of status updates from Facebook friends about this left hand/right hand distinction, urging Facebook friends to go through various hoops so that everything appears on one side of the page or the other.
I remember a long time ago -- I am dating myself because this involves land lines -- we introduced some new telephone systems at the Kennedy School, and got an email telling us about a training session for using the new system. I told my assistant, "I don't want a telephone that I need a training session to use." Now, at some point the advantages of a new system are so great that people are ready and willing to train themselves to make use of the new features (think about people self-training to use their new iPhones). But the Facebook changes to me don't fall in that category. Facebook, please just let us enjoy the system, and stop forcing these unnecessary changes on us all the time!
A number of the reader comments on Alice's post had the message: "another reason not to participate in Facebook." That reaction is too bad, because I continue to find Facebook a really useful and fun medium. But the Facebook churn is giving change a bad name. This is "flavor of the month" at its worst.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jan 12, 2012 at 12:09 PM

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


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    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

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Reader comments

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 Rick Washington

I'm out of Facebook. Just not as friendly a site anymore and I don't like the risk with my personal information. Good-bye Facebook and friends.

Fri, Jan 13, 2012 Przemek

The C++ creator Bjarne Stroustrup said that he's frustrated by how hard it is to use the computers: "I always wanted my computer to be as easy to use as the telephone. My wish has been granted: I no longer know how to use my telephone"

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