I'm posting this week from sunny San Francisco, where yesterday's earthquake was only a 3.6, rather than a 5.9 back home in New York. Ah, the irony!
Still, in keeping with our earthquake theme, something seismic is happening, and it concerns how competition is actually proving good for Facebook, and by extension, all of us who use it. At the risk of reading too much into it, yesterday's announcement by Facebook that it would revamp its privacy controls -- often with the result that those controls would be, well, more controlling -- looks like it was prompted by the degree of control users have when they use Google+.
Consider: Facebook has rarely changed its privacy settings to be more conservative without a user outcry demanding it be done first. Second, some of the controls mimic Google+, especially the one that makes it easier for a person to choose who a status update is meant for. That's the very feature at the core of Google's latest attempt at being a play-ah in social media: a simple button at the end of each update allows users to decide which Circle gets to see it.
While it's unlikely that Facebook will ever adapt a structure in which friends are automatically grouped into -- in Google+ parlance -- Circles, this change means that Facebook is coming to terms with its biggest flaw: that it just isn't natural to share everything with everybody. While Facebook has had Groups for a long time, most people I've talked to rarely use them. I'd have to conjecture that it's because Groups are not the default on Facebook; sharing everything is, as befits a service that once upon a time was composed of one oversharing Circle known as college kids. It's also well worth mentioning that generally, you have to approve being tagged in a photo from hereon in. While there's little about me, at this point in my life, that produces online photo embarrassment, allowing users to exert control over what's posted about them is a long-overdue step for Facebook.
Additionally, Facebook is making it easier to change privacy controls. The new settings allow users to make changes directly from their profile page, and to see their profile page as others see it. I don't think the latter feature has ever been available on Facebook before; the former has always meant wending your way through specific Account and Privacy Settings pages that people seldom visit on Facebook day-to-day. To be honest, it's not as though changing settings has been as difficult as building the pyramids, although it has often been described as such. Still, since many of us suffer from acute settings fatigue, it's a relief to know this will be made easier.
The end result is a kinder, gentler Facebook, one that does a better job of keeping the threat of Google+ at bay. What that means for Google+, I don't know, but I do know it's good news, in the long run, for Facebook -- and for all of us who spend time using social media.