In-Your-Facebook: A Look at the Latest Wave of Big Changes on the Social Network Everyone Loves to Hate

GeekMom Technology

As you’ve no doubt heard, Facebook rolled out some major changes this week–and even bigger changes will be hitting your Wall in the weeks to come. (More on those in a minute.) Many Facebook users were caught off guard by the new “ticker” that now appears in the upper right corner of the News Feed page. The ticker is a sort of mini-news-feed, designed for what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls “lighter weight” information. It’s a constantly refreshing scroll of your friends’ comments, likes, and other Facebook activity, magnetically pulling your gaze over and over again.

A TOTALLY UNSTAGED screen grab of my ticker. And by “totally unstaged,” I mean “yeah, we totally staged that.”

Here’s a really important thing to know: if you comment on a friend’s status update, the privacy level of your comment is determined by whatever sharing setting your friend chose for that update: public, friends-of-friends, friends only, or a customized group. This has always been the case–the difference now is that your comments are popping up in your friends’ tickers, and they’re much more noticeable than in the news feed. If you leave a comment on an update with a “friends of friends” setting, that comment will appear in your friends’ tickers, even if your other friends don’t know the person whose update you’ve commented on.

I’ve seen a lot of confusion over this issue in the past couple of days. For example, I wrote an update and shared it to “public.” My friend Jenny commented on it. Her friend Brian–a person I’ve never met–saw Jenny’s comment in his ticker, and clicked through to join the conversation. This is totally fine; I’d made the post public intentionally, and Brian made good contributions to the discussion. But it surprised the heck out of Jenny! She knew Brian and I had no connection other than that she is friends with each of us, and we’re friends from vastly different corners of her world. Suddenly, there we all were chitchatting together. If you’ve ever experience the jolt of worlds colliding on Facebook, brace yourself. The collisions are happening at the speed of light these days.

Like I said, it has always been the case that Brian could have left a comment on my friends-of-friends or public update, since we have a mutual friend. But before the ticker, the conversation probably wouldn’t have hit his radar unless he happened to notice a “Jenny left a comment on…” note on Jenny’s wall. The ticker is the game-changer here: it puts Jenny’s commenting and liking activity right on Brian’s news feed page. And vice versa.

You can hide a friend’s comments and likes by hovering your mouse over her name, then hover over the “Subscribed” button, and deselect the things you want to screen from your ticker. But there’s no mass setting for you to hide your own comments from your friends’ tickers–the visibility of your comments is always determined by the post you’re commenting on.

So just be aware: if you’re chiming in on a public or friends-of-friends post, people you don’t know will most likely be viewing your comment in their tickers. Even if all your own friends do that hover/deselect thing I mentioned above, your comments are still visible to strangers (and always were, on this kind of post–but now they’re not just visible, they’re decked out in neon lights).

How do you tell the privacy setting of a friend’s status update? Look for the gray icon below the update, to the right of the timestamp. If the icon is a globe, that post is public; if it’s a person’s head, the post was shared with friends only; and if the icon is a gear, the post was shared with a custom list. Hover over the gear to see details about the list–it may say “custom,” meaning it’s probably a smaller pool than the person’s whole friends list, or “friends of friends,” which is of course a much wider pool.

There’s a wave of “you hide my comments, and I’ll hide yours” sweeping over Facebook this weekend. That’s a whole lot of manual deselecting going on–but do be aware that this semi-fix doesn’t really make your comments private, it just means they won’t show up to the friends who’ve complied with your “please hide ’em” request. And let’s face it, the friends most likely to honor your request are probably the very people you don’t mind reading your random comments in the first place.

If you hate the ticker altogether, there are browser extensions that will let you hide it: here’s one for Chrome, and one for Firefox. (I haven’t tried these, so feel free to report back with your experience.)

As for your own status updates, don’t forget to check the setting of a status update before you post it! Another new wrinkle is that post settings are sticky to the previous update–so if you post one update to “friends of friends,” your next update will have that setting by default until you change it manually.

WELL. That’s a lot of change, but really, we ain’t seen nothing yet. At Thursday’s f8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced the advent of the Timeline–the new, bell-and-whistle-filled incarnation of the current Facebook profile. (Here’s a link to Zuckerberg’s keynote address.)

Your Timeline will be a scrollable compendium of everything you’ve ever posted to Facebook, and–if you so choose–just about everything you ever do for the rest of your life.

Screenshot of Timeline from f8 video presentation

Everything you’ve ever shared on Facebook will be rolled into your Timeline–every photo, every status update, every like. (You can go in and alter the visibility settings for each item individually, after the fact.) A key component of Timeline will be serious app integration; users will be able to connect, say, a cooking app that allows them to chronicle and share every recipe they attempt, or a running app that uses GPS to log favorite routes. Facebook is partnering with Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, and other media outlets to bring music, film, and television viewing right to the Facebook screen–and whatever you’re watching or listening to, your friends can do the same with a simple click.

Sound cool? Or seriously creepy? I’m hearing mixed reactions. Many Facebook users feel uneasy at the thought of handing over this level of personal detail to a social network that already has notoriously complicated and ever-changing privacy settings–and uneasier still at the thought of how much data on lifestyle habits all this Timeline and app integration is going to provide advertisers.

Once the Timeline rolls out (you can sneak it in early now, via the steps outlined in this Mashable post), the ticker will become even livelier, displaying updates off all the offscreen activity your friends are reporting via their shiny new apps. Kristen is running in Central Park. Ruth is cooking pad thai. Andrea just played the word “stalker” in a game of Words with Friends.

“Now,” said Zuckerberg in the keynote, “even before I start using Spotify, I can see what my friends are listening to live, in my ticker.” He went on to explain that patterns that emerge in all this ticker activity will be pulled into your main News Feed, as a story there. If several of your friends are watching Glee at the same time, that tidbit will appear in your feed. And if you want to watch the same episode, all you have to do is click.

A friend asked me what my take is on Facebook’s new direction. Here’s what I replied:

I’m extremely wary. I think the whole thing is a brilliant and seductive mechanism for deep, deep data-mining. Timeline has some mighty appealing characteristics–no longer do your old status updates disappear into oblivion at the bottom of your page. Now you have easy, crisply organized access to every morsel of your own Facebook activity. You can enter new info & photos for years past, all the way to the day you were born. It’s a giant digital scrapbook, and I think a lot of people are going to love it.

It’s cleverly done and has boatloads of appeal, and people will pay for the convenience by providing advertisers with even more information about lifestyle and spending habits than we already do. There’s a reports feature that lets you compile a report on your own (or your friends’) reading/watching/eating/travel/etc –and you just know that if we can compile these reports about ourselves, so can the app developers we grant account access to.

It’s like saying, Dear Advertisers, here’s my entire life: profile away.

For a lot of users, though, a decision to walk away from Facebook isn’t a no-brainer. It’s no secret I much prefer Google+ as a social networking interface (although Google’s rotten “real names” policy has considerably dimmed my enthusiasm)–but if I were to kiss my Facebook goodbye, I’d be missing out on the riches it does give me: a peek at the daily doings of a lot of people I love dearly, people who, for whatever reason, aren’t doing their online sharing anywhere else.

What’s your take? Is the ticker ticking you off? Or are you counting the minutes until your Timeline goes live?

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21 thoughts on “In-Your-Facebook: A Look at the Latest Wave of Big Changes on the Social Network Everyone Loves to Hate

  1. I don’t mind the ticker so much. What that annoys me with the ticker is when it shows EVERYTHING that your friends comment on or like even if you don’t know that person or are apart of that group. BUT that can be fixed , it just takes more time than I’d like to spend.

  2. I don’t like the new changes. The ticker up in the corner reminds me of the picture-in-picture feature on my television. (I don’t use that, either)
    I love how much control I have over my posts and circles at Google+ and only keep returning to facebook for two reasons: 1. Most of my friends haven’t migrated to Google+ yet and I want to stay connected and 2. I have a facebook page for my blog there and I just can’t leave that page behind. The people who have ‘liked’ that page don’t visit my site every day, but they do go to Facebook every day. It’s an easy way to post links and interact with them. People seem to comment more on my page than my blog and I enjoy the conversation. So, while I MUCH prefer Google+, I don’t want to lose that connection.

  3. I’ve turned off the ticker. I’m very wary of the timeline. If I don’t have control over what it displays, I will go through and manually delete much older content.

  4. I’m an older Facebooker and find all the changes very disconcerting. I had looked upon Facebook as a useful tool to share and learn interesting information that has not appeared in the media. I guess that will be able to continue, but do not like the profiling aspect and all that implies …

  5. This was, for me, the final straw that broke the camel’s back. I deleted my facebook account today, finally, after much hand-wringing and flip-flopping. But I’m glad I did.

    I only want to see what my friends post, what they want me to see. I have no wish to share the fact that I made a personal (or even public) comment on one of my friend’s posts with the rest of my friends- bad enough their friends can all see it!

    And! Even worse is the sound of this “Timeline” thingy… Very fishy in my opinion, and I don’t like the whole “share all your info since birth” part of it. I realize most of that info you have to put in yourself, but still.

    Well, at least most of the friends I connect with on Facebook can still be reached via email, text, phone call, or *gasp*, face-to-face!!! I am blessed in that regard. Otherwise, it would have been even harder for me to quit facebooking.

  6. I’m not going to complain. It’s a free service that I can opt out of anytime. However, I won’t because I have a good time chatting with friends and family. Google+ is fine, but does not have my community on it (and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.)

    As I made clear to my daughter when she joined Facebook, “Assume, EVERYONE can read and see EVERYTHING you post on the internet. You can set your privacy settings any way you want, but there is nothing truly private out there now. If you don’t want your grandmother or the creepy guy in the park to know something— don’t put it on the internet ANYWHERE.”

  7. I am so grateful for all the information and insight you have provided to us about FB this week. I’m worried for the people who don’t really understand how to protect themselves, and who may end up in a mess because of it. For me, my wall is now a junkyard of strangers’ posts that my friends have commented on, and I don’t even have a ticker yet to make it worse.

    BUT I’m reluctant to leave. FB was my “private-enough” place to say real-life things I couldn’t put on my weblog. That’s spoiled now. But I still love the atmosphere and my friends who are there, so although I will have to limit my participation a lot, I will be staying.

  8. The single major change I would make to FB (and have wished for, for YEARS) is the ability to remove my older posts in one fell swoop.

    And that doesn’t exist — nor does it exist on G+.

  9. I’m leery of the new changes too. I’m not getting as much out of Facebook as I used to. As they have changed their privacy policies, I’ve gotten less inclined to post. It’s true that someone could always see your comments in a public group or page, but that’s very different than having your comment displayed in the ticker. I’ve been using lists for a long time to control who sees the things I post on my own wall, but I have no such controls on the ticker. People who need to keep their work and their private lives separate, or who have groups of friends with very different beliefs, are going to have a hard time with this. I do prefer Google+, but most of my friends aren’t on there yet.

  10. I feel like the only person in the world — of people who are ON Facebook– who is completely Indifferent. I’ve tuned out the ticker (it would be more useful if you could scroll it– now it’s just noise). I find the way you can more selectively choose what you see in your newsfeed kind of handy. I’m not so worried about privacy, because I don’t share really personal stuff anywhere online ANYWAY. As for whether I’m looking FORWARD to the Timeline format or whatever? Not really either. My only fear is that all my OTHER friends will get so fed up that they’ll abandon Facebook for yet another social network, and I am REALLY SICK of changing social networks and keeping up with new ones or whatever. When I first started a LiveJournal, all my friends and followers there were people I actually knew personally, and they shared their personal stories and whatnot and it was all very nice. Now I’m still there, blogging away, and I have a lot of people who read me, but all my REAL FRIENDS who used to be over there all the time don’t BOTHER to anymore, and it makes me sad. I wish social networking could be STREAMLINED better…

  11. @Rebecca, while I would agree with the general principle that internet privacy only goes as far as the cut-and-paste button, I think there’s a difference between privacy and visibility. As Kristi said, the ticker makes comments so much more visible. For me, one immediate effect has been that I’m seeing a ton of political conversation of a type I was able to quickly scroll past before–now, comment after comment flashes on my screen, and about half of them make my blood boil. *grin*

    It’s as if my Google Reader were to suddenly start scrolling a ticker of my friends’ comments on blogs all around the internet. Sure, those comments are public, and I could theoretically click around to encounter them on the original posts. But it would be highly distracting and feel a bit stalkerish if I were suddenly able to see, in the corner of my Readers, all the comments my friends and family were leaving on blogs I never visit. That would be not so much a privacy change as a visibility change–a creepy one. The ticker has quite a voyeuristic feel at times. For example, one young woman I know left a comment on her college buddy’s “shared with friends of friends” status update. I’m sure it never crossed her mind that this lively, raunchy conversation between two close friends would be popping up on the screens of 40-something moms of her acquaintance. I felt like an unintentional spy!

  12. “if you comment on a friend’s status update, the privacy level of your comment is determined by whatever sharing setting your friend chose for that update: public, friends-of-friends, friends only, or a customized group. This has always been the case”

    This isn’t the full story though — as far as activity on your own wall or activity that shows up on your regular feed, previously there was always the option to opt out. Go to your Facebook wall, find a notification of a comment you’ve left on someone else’s wall, and click on the “X” to the right of it. It will give you the option to either hide only that comment from your wall or to hide all commenting activity from your wall. So, even though I’ve commented on many people’s Facebook pages, when you go to my wall, it doesn’t show any of that. All it shows is statuses and links I’ve posted on my own wall. You can also choose which activities to hide from the news feed somewhere in your privacy settings — I did it so long ago that I’m not sure where that option is these days.

    The problem with this ticker is that it doesn’t allow any type of opt-out option. Sure, before the ticker people could go searching every single page in existence on Facebook trying to find everything you may have liked or commented on even if you hid your activity, but that would be pretty damn time-consuming and ineffective. Now, however, it comes to you on your wall, and I know from unfortunate experience that people on Facebook are much nosier and more malicious than I ever could have imagined. I know at least one mentally ill individual who I’ve blocked will be obsessively using that ticker to find out who’s liking things he disagrees with so he can send them multiple psychotic messages, and will then use other accounts to continue abusing them when he blocks them. I’ve even heard from some people that users they’ve blocked show up in conversations on their ticker, and they can only assume that their activities show up to those they’ve blocked as well. It’s a scary change, and I’ve deactivated my Facebook account until they decide to offer an opt-out option.

  13. “and will then use other accounts to continue abusing them when he blocks them”

    Oops, I meant he’ll contact them on other accounts when THEY block HIM.

  14. Hmm. I don’t have this new Ticker on the right side column of my Facebook page. But I don’t have ads either. Is it possible my AdBlock Plus add-on is blocking the Ticker too?

  15. Cathy, yes, your AdBlock may be blocking the ticker. Ticker hasn’t rolled out to all users yet, but some of the folks that have it are using AdBlock to not-have it. 🙂

  16. The changes make me leary. I restrict my account as it is to keep ‘certain’ people out of my life, despite their efforts to ‘re-establish’ contact. This just makes me think more and more that it would be easier for them to start stalking despite my settings and attempts to keep some level of privacy. In effect I have been slowly merging my friends list over to G+.

  17. Basically this is yet another reassurance to why I have left Facebook and that I will NEVER look back. I was not just tired of the Zuckerberg privacy shell game, I was also tired of extended family and acquaintances ranting about things that mattered next to nothing in my life: overinflated opinions about politics, religion, sex, money/finances– the usual things that get people SO worked up but that I have very little time or patience for.

    Why would I want to go back to a ticker tape that would flow that like a sewer line? No thank you! (Although my AdBlock would probably grep it, too.)

  18. notedeje, re:
    “click on the “X” to the right of it. It will give you the option to either hide only that comment from your wall or to hide all commenting activity from your wall. ”

    You don’t have the option to hide that person’s comments on other friends of his/hers. I would hide that comment, but not all comments. I don’t understand why we don’t get the option to hide comments & likes by that person, on his/her other friends’ posts (of whom we are not friends.) I kind of feel like a voyeur and, usually, go to Like or Comment and find that I can’t.

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