Recently Facebook has undertaken yet another retooling of the site with a number of changes to make it more attractive to advertisers. Some of the troubling privacy implications of the multifaceted revamp were expertly laid out, as always, by MediaPost's Wendy Davis last week. Since then a memo to advertisers has been leaked detailing planned changes to the way brand profiles appear on Facebook. While seemingly more innocuous than the ones revealed last week, these changes also threaten to alter user experience for the worse.
The Facebook memo to advertisers, first posted on All Things Digital, reveals that Facebook is planning on doing away with the current system for brands appearing on the site, in which brand profiles were more clearly differentiated from the site's human users. In the current system, Facebook's human users have to choose to "Become a Fan" of a brand profile, as opposed to clicking "Like" for human profile status updates, photos, and so on. After the planned change, Facebook explained to advertisers, "People will soon connect with your Brand Pages by clicking 'Like' rather than 'Become a Fan.'" In other words, they will relate to brands in the same way they relate to human beings on the site.
The advantage of this is obvious, according to Facebook, which noted that "people click 'Like' almost two times more than they click 'Become a Fan' everyday. 'Like' offers a simple, consistent way for people to connect with the things they are interested in. These lighter-weight actions mean people will make more connections across the site, including with your branded Facebook Pages."
But the drawbacks are just as obvious -- and in fact they are implicit in the rationale offered above.
In short, Facebook originally created these two, different options for interacting with other profiles on the site for a number of reasons -- but at least in part because the system offered greater transparency about which profiles belonged to real people, and which belonged to entities. Thus users could easily distinguish between their "real" human contacts (and real human profiles in general) and commercial brand presences.
Will users notice when Facebook phases out the "Become a Fan" option? Well, the ability to distinguish was clearly important to people at some level: Facebook itself notes that "people click 'Like' almost two times more than they click 'Become a Fan' everyday." Whatever the reason for this difference in click rates, it indicates that people grasp the distinction between "Like" and "Become a Fan," to the degree that it affects their decision to click one or the other.
Now this extra level of transparency, which clearly served some purpose in the minds of Facebook users, is being taken away. Will Facebook pay any penalty for this move?