A tale of two Facebooks

As the massive IPO nears, Cringely wonders which Facebook will eventually prevail: the groundbreaking social network or the privacy-averse data siphon

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The stories, photos, videos, and other effluvia people post on Facebook give me a window into their psyches, their philosophies, and their politics. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it isn't. But every day I'm exposed to stuff I wouldn't otherwise have seen.

Granted, there are days when I open up my news feed and think, "Who the frak are all these people? I don't remember friending any of them." On the other hand, I have made actual "friends" with some of my random Facebook friends. There are people I've gotten to know on Facebook whom I really like, even if we have yet to meet in three-dimensional space.

And of course there are total jerks, just as in life. But unlike in life, you can unfriend them with a few clicks. Try doing that with the a***** in the cubicle next to yours some time. That is also something I love about Facebook.

What I hate about Facebook is its arrogance about user privacy -- or at least, I used to hate its arrogance. I think Facebook has actually gotten much, much better about this over the last two years. Having been soundly spanked in the media (I got a few licks in myself) and scolded by the FTC and European privacy agencies, Facebook seems to have discovered that it cannot simply do whatever it feels like with the yottabytes of data we've all voluntarily handed to it -- regardless of how its hoodie-wearing CEO thinks the world should feel about sharing.

It no longer foists new services or redesigns upon its users in quite the same capricious way it did in the past. Usually there's some warning and even a trial phase. Granted, though, if you don't want to use Timeline, you're kinda screwed. Facebook's apps and tagging policies still mostly suck. And while the privacy tools Facebook now provides are a vast improvement over what it used to offer, they're still too complicated for most people. There is no easy one-click way to say "turn off all this annoying crap and share this stuff only with my actual friends, please." That's also something I hate.

Facebook posts being used as an excuse to fire employees or determine your creditworthiness and/or insurance coverage? Gotta hate that too.

As my colleague, Enterprise Windows blogger J. Peter Bruzzese notes, Facebook is most definitely a distraction, especially at work. He advises that IT departments block it. Good luck with that. I'm reminded of the story of the English King Canute, who sat on the edge of the North Sea and ordered the tides to stay out. Needless to say, Canute walked home with wet sandals. Apparently that demonstration was his way of saying, "See, even an all-powerful king has his limits."

If people want to use Facebook at work, they're going to use Facebook at work. And at home, on their phones, their TVs, and anywhere else Zuckerberg Inc. decides to put it.

Can you use Facebook in a way that gives you the benefits of connectedness and sharing without your data being used against you? That's a question to which I have no answer, nor, I think, does anyone else. But I suspect we'll soon find out, for better and possibly worse.

Are you with the pro-Facebook hipsters or the "get off my lawn" crowd? Cast your vote below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "A tale of two Facebooks," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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