I'm getting some wonky vibes from the redesign of the private Facebook profile. The left-most column is fine with clearer navigational elements below the userpic, and the wall is just as ugly as ever. Targeted friend suggestions at the upper right don't bother me very much, and the targeted ads, though often offensively pinpointed (People in tech wear glasses!) are a part of this service.
It's the middle column that really kills me. Whatever happened to the promotion of the self-authored "About Me" phrase to give semi-friends a good impression? My phrase "I'm bringing spinster back" has been regrettably replaced wholesale by an ultra-shallow declaration of where I work, where I went to school, where I live, my birthday, etc, followed by five thumbnails of others' photos that I don't particularly want on the front page of my persona. I mean, those thumbnails aren't even recent! Most of them are from my college days, so what's the sorting algorithm: most viewed? Tagged with the most other people? Most embarrassing or insightful demographically, as determined by a mechanical turk?1
I wish I could honestly say that the old design was better, but the truth is that this evolution to presenting people as if they were livestock of different breeds, qualities, and geographic areas is a huge step back for social networks. Congratulations, Facebook! You have reduced the glory of a Real Name network to the greatest collection of tweet-length demographic profiles on the internet.
The anonymous profile shows a diet-sized portion of info about me, as I configured, but the new part is choosing an elite subset of your friends to formally declare as associations. Why is this necessary? I mean, in public profiles past, is this something that actually bodes weirdly for people? I feel pressured to declare my Top n cleanest and most neutral friends that are most closely like me for fear of Ayers-like accusations of being friends with some people. Facebook is pressuring me very directly to label some of my friends as preferred/positive connections, and I have a creepy feeling that it's for advertising purposes.
I'm what Advertisers call "off the grid" because, by choice, I don't have a cable TV package and 99% of advertising avenues are presented alongside my interactions are online. Similarly, I configure my online accounts to disclose as little information to advertisers as possible. And yet, this new Facebook feature makes me notably paranoid: there's a greater chance that Advertisers can make conclusions about my demographic information based on my Preferred Facebook Friends whose information is public. So no longer are we individual data points on the Facebook graph -- we become collectively implied personas open to media targeting.
Am I going to commit yet another Facebook suicide, as I did upon my college graduation day? Not just yet, but don't be offended when I untag myself from all of your photos, and when I choose you as a representative friend.
1 Spolier Alert: I have strong feelings on the subject of Kinect and their potential use for mechanical turks to demographically and not-so-anonymously profile their users. More on that another day.