Facebook Email Messaging a Beacon of Hope

This is huge.

I noticed it when I got a Facebook message today on my Blackberry, and the actual text of the message was there, instead of a link that forced me to log in to Facebook to see the message content.

Then I saw the news confirmed in a couple of blogs tonight. As Michael Arrington says, this makes Facebook much more useful for messaging. And AllFacebook points out that the text of Wall posts also now is included in email messages.

Which suggests that Cory Doctorow’s comments from last week, as I said last week, overestimated Facebook’s venality:

Facebook is no paragon of virtue. It bears the hallmarks of the kind of pump-and-dump service that sees us as sticky, monetizable eyeballs in need of pimping. The clue is in the steady stream of emails you get from Facebook: “So-and-so has sent you a message.” Yeah, what is it? Facebook isn’t telling — you have to visit Facebook to find out, generate a banner impression, and read and write your messages using the halt-and-lame Facebook interface, which lags even end-of-lifed email clients like Eudora for composing, reading, filtering, archiving and searching. Emails from Facebook aren’t helpful messages, they’re eyeball bait, intended to send you off to the Facebook site, only to discover that Fred wrote “Hi again!” on your “wall.” Like other “social” apps (cough eVite cough), Facebook has all the social graces of a nose-picking, hyperactive six-year-old, standing at the threshold of your attention and chanting, “I know something, I know something, I know something, won’t tell you what it is!”

Facebook will likely see a short-term drop in page views because of this change, but this makes it a much more useful service that will lead to long-term growth.

If, as Doctorow said, Facebook was a “pump-and-dump” service, Zuckerberg would have sold for a billion-plus last year. He and his gang certainly made mistakes with Beacon, but they’ve come around and offered the global opt-out. And I thought Mark’s apology hit all the right notes.

About a month ago, we released a new feature called Beacon to try to help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web. We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. While I am disappointed with our mistakes, we appreciate all the feedback we have received from our users. I’d like to discuss what we have learned and how we have improved Beacon….

It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.

Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control over what and how they share information. This is what makes Facebook a good utility, and in order to be a good feature, Beacon also needs to do the same. People need to be able to explicitly choose what they share, and they need to be able to turn Beacon off completely if they don’t want to use it.

I’ve been impressed that the people working at Facebook really are in it to change the way people communicate. I’m glad to see that they seem to have come back to their senses.

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Author: Lee Aase

Husband of one, father of six, grandfather of 15. Chancellor Emeritus, SMUG. Emeritus staff of Mayo Clinic. Founder of HELPcare and Administrator for HELPcare Clinic.

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