What Removing Regional Facebook Networks Means for You

Thursday, 03 September 2009

Facebook has been making a lot of big (and small) changes lately…like moving from a round to a sharp corner on avatars and cleaning up the look of your inbox. But while the regional network change may sound like just another Facebook tweak, it’s actually kind of a big deal. And not in the Will Ferrell way.

No More Local Networks

When Facebook first launched, it was for Harvard students only, then the Ivies, and gradually more and more colleges and universities. Finally, this social network opened up to anyone with an email address and started down the road to the site as we now know it. But Facebook’s college connection roots started a precedent for how people “got found,” creating college networks within this larger social graph. When users signed up they had to use their school email address, automatically identifying and adding themselves to their school’s network.

Picture 4

As Facebook expanded its user base, user networks expanded and evolved along with it. New Facebookers were now asked to choose a city or town as their primary location, as not everyone had identifiable email addresses. Certain work organizations and alliance groups also had networks, usually private, but these networks were optional. Everyone had to belong to a regional network, but couldn’t be in more than one. Switching was a pain and only allowed once every two months.

What’s With All the Fuss About These Networks?

Before Facebook implemented a more robust set of privacy filters, people in your network could learn a lot about you. For example, you could limit yourself to only friending people you went to school with, but as part of a large city network, every Facebook member in your same network could see all your information. Sure, Facebook let you control some of what was shown publicly, but most of these rudimentary settings were hard to access and displayed either too much or too little information.

Facebook Doesn’t Care Where You Live…Just What You Do Online

Today, Facebook officially ended the emphasis on region and location in real life by eliminating all local networks. They still show up in the Info section of profiles, but function like any piece of random information available on that tab. A quick search revealed that while there are 938, Picture 3842 people in the Boston network, Facebook can’t use that search term to connect me with them unless we also went to high school or college together.

This could be seen as either good news or bad news to avid Facebook users, depending on how you prefer to utilize the site. If you’re more of a professional networker, you probably get the name or even Facebook URL of the people you want to connect to and are already well-versed in how to tweak your settings to keep non-friends from viewing personal info. But, if you’re more social and like connecting with new people online, prefer to be an open book, or occasionally indulge in some stalking of the exes, this change makes it difficult. There’s no network to connect you to people you don’t know, so non-friend profiles are off-limits.

What does this mean for you? If you haven’t gotten the hang of Facebook privacy settings, you can breathe a little easier; this makes it harder to see what you have posted online. But if you like sharing and living your life online, get friending! Either way, you should still learn how to navigate your privacy settings for better control of your profile.

Why the Change?

Facebook’s motive for removing regional networks remains to be seen, but I’ve got a few theories. First, Facebook recently passed the 200 million user mark and have been steadily gaining users ever since. Regional networks were primarily used to connect people when the site was new, hard to navigate and much more restricted. Now that practically everyone is on the site, and Facebook links appear on everything from email signatures and business cards to t-shirts, Facebook may see regional networks as unnecessary.

On the flip side, Facebook posted a rather cryptic blog post just five days ago alluding to privacy control changes that include:

“plans to give you more control over your information and to help you make more informed choices about privacy. We’ll be making a series of improvements that include notifications and information about privacy settings and practices, additions to Facebook’s privacy policy, and technical changes designed to give people more transparency and control over the information they provide”

Picture 5Ostensibly, these mysterious changes are in response to recent privacy issues raised by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner regarding applications and the data they can grab from profiles. However, while removing regional networks is not mentioned in Facebook’s press release or the Canadian report, the timing seems too close to be coincidental. My guess? Facebook has been blamed for more crimes, breakups and firings lately, and Facebook wanted to save us from ourselves my cracking down on the openness of local networks.

UPDATE:

Facebook re-adds location based search for existing friends with city filters; still makes it difficult to see people in your area who you are not friends with.

20 Comments

  • Well done! Very clear and concise, thanks!

    Comment by Freydaddy — September 3, 2009 @ 10:43 am
  • [...] 2009 Facebook is going through changes faster than a pre-teen hitting puberty: first, they removed regional networks, then they streamlined the inbox and today they announced the addition of tagging to status updates [...]

    Pingback by Facebook Launches @ Tagging » Alison Driscoll — September 10, 2009 @ 2:36 pm
  • There are some ways where the region is still intact. If I google my name, then I still see Boston, MA. When I create events, I can still filter by region.

    Comment by Ben Margolis — September 10, 2009 @ 2:39 pm
  • This is a wonderful post. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook as an intellectual study, for some reason, despite my voracious interest in the space and human-computer interaction, but your thoughts on their recent moves are really great and very insightful.

    Personally, I’m not sure Facebook wants to be what I want it to be. My initial reaction to their assault on Twitter-like functionality discourages me; Facebook was useful to me because of it’s connective graph, both academic and social. Add a professional graph, company or industry specific, for instance, and I’m sure I’d use it. Moving away from that has me nervous.

    Comment by DShan — September 10, 2009 @ 2:49 pm
  • I am one of those people who has been hit by this. I like to connect with new people now that is very hard. I would do a search for local people looking to network and I would find people that where looking for that. Not anymore I cannot search in that way. Great article!

    Comment by Michelle and Carlos — September 30, 2009 @ 12:12 pm
  • What is facebook thinkig!!!!! This cuts people off from the rest of the world, and turns it in to clique version. Just back like in high school! You basicaly already know the people in a group before you can get in! This is pretty messed up!

    Comment by James Rinjii — October 1, 2009 @ 4:57 pm
  • What a STUPID thing to do. They shouldn’t have removed regional networks. It worked fine, it’s easy to make your profile private… you just go into settings, and set it to your desire. Even, a disabled person could figure it out.

    My friend can’t even join the network I’m in, and even though it shows no network listings, I know that I’m still in my current one.

    Facebook is starting to suck. They’re going downhill.

    Comment by Lani — October 2, 2009 @ 10:01 am
  • I want to change my region from Fayetteville to Virginia Beach and the only options given now are for work or school networks. BOO HISS!! This way friends that remember me from growing up will not be confused by the region when they search for me. I understand the reason for security. Then why not just make the regions “non-searchable” but still let us be apart of whatever region we would like to be apart of.

    Comment by Stephanie Desjarlais — October 2, 2009 @ 11:47 am
  • The new restrictions are unfair to new FB adopters and to people who want to change their networks. The regional or city networks are still in place for people who belonged to them previously. They can see profiles of non-friends in their city networks who have left them open to the network.

    But people who join FB or want to join a new regional network cannot.

    I recently made the horrible mistake of leaving my local city network. Now if I want to see somebody’s profile in my city, I have to login using my wife’s FB profile, which is still associated with our regional network.

    I need access to my city’s network to do my job and I’m now willing to pay someone to give an older profile that belongs to it.

    The obvious consequence of this is that there will soon be an active market for older profiles affiliated with local networks. How much would you pay to take over a profile affiliation with New York City or San Francisco?

    Facebook has really layed an egg with this decision.

    Comment by Glen — October 2, 2009 @ 1:10 pm
  • I wish Facebook would bring back the networks for regions. It was a way for local area peoplet omeet more people in teh area. Now that is impossible! PLEASE bring it back!

    Comment by Neo — October 7, 2009 @ 6:04 am
  • When I joined up I could specify Columbus, OH as the regional network. Then I decided to point back to my hometown of Springfield, MA to see if anyone I knew back in the ’50s was still there. Once that proved fruitless, I tried to revert back to Columbus, OH. Tried several times and each time the code tells me I can’t. Some nonsense about not being able to change networks but once every 60 days. So I tried pointing at my school, Ohio State where I last graduated in 1970, a long time before they even thought about email. So naturally I can’t join up. Now it seems no networks are available to me as the work email I had before I retired at the state of Ohio has long since been cancelled, like 10 years ago, and my personal and work email DaveScott@columbus.rr.com can’t be entered in the form. Of course, since I’m a sole member LLC, there’s no one else at my company to connect with. Duh!

    Comment by Dave Scott — October 7, 2009 @ 11:36 am
  • This is indeed dumb. They tell me that the stuff is still intact–it is not. There is nothing on my profile that even indicates this.

    As to the privacy issue… There are two types of facebook users. I am of the “open book” type. I don’t put anything up there I don’t want anybody to see–therefore privacy isn’t an issue. If it were then I would not have opened it up to my network friends. If people can’t understand this difference, they poo poo on them– They deserve the consequences!

    Another issue. Alumni in Schools. What is the big deal about this kind of validation. Classmates.com is very successfull and doesn’t get all hung up about this. Why should facebook?!
    (again because of privacy–see above!).

    Another thing. Facebook needs to get more stability on their platform than dealing with this thing anyways. Half the time people are in my chat window that are long since gone, etc.

    I think I am about to go back to having a website and a block and let Google do the rest… This isn’t fun anymore and this kind of reliability leads only to misunderstands (dissing) and frustration.

    Comment by Andy S. — October 8, 2009 @ 6:03 am
  • Join this facebook group to try to get them to bring networks back!!

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=142196041935&ref=mf

    Comment by Clairie — October 8, 2009 @ 5:37 pm
  • The new restrictions are unfair to new FB adopters and to people who want to change their networks. The regional or city networks are still in place for people who belonged to them previously. They can see profiles of non-friends in their city networks who have left them open to the network. I am new to a city and the old way of just being in a regional network was a great way to meet new people. Now I cant becuase of the “new network” thing.

    Comment by Rachael — October 14, 2009 @ 8:42 am
  • How is anyone supposed to know if they have found me when they search for me, or one of the other 494 people with the same name as me, if there are no regional networks any more??? Taking away the option to be in a regional network is just daft!

    Comment by Carol Ross — October 14, 2009 @ 8:55 pm
  • I agree completely with this–Facebook really needs to have Regional Networks as a means of finding only people in your area. I’m trying to make a Note about an apartment for people in my city and now I can’t do it.

    Comment by Tyler — October 25, 2009 @ 5:15 pm
  • What an absolute bullet in the foot from the worlds premier social NETWORKING site, for such a site to remove the ability to “NETWORK” from its portfolio is, i am sure, the start of the demise of facebook.
    it is surely the end of the line for this ever morphing monster, yes , facebook you are todays darling but tomorrows wasted whore.
    i hope that the people who matter have earned their coin from this experiment, because unless people can actually meet and interact with NEW people (as the original facebook allowed). then this will become what it sadly started out as.
    a way of college alumni to contact each other.nothing more and nothing less, i am currently bombarded with users that are P***ed off with facebook.
    wake up . smell the cappuccino facebook.
    next years social NETWORKING site is currently being encoded by a student not far from you.
    and to be honest…i cannot wait.!
    people tried you , they liked you, they joined you….when people start hearing whispers of a better site then their (and my) loyalty has gone.
    please restore the Original regional and city NETWORKING option because without this, the only people i will be able to network with are the TW*TS that I spent 11 years schooling with and the samr TW*TS that i have no wish ever to contact again.
    you have 3 months to return regional networks facebook.

    Comment by chris skelly — October 30, 2009 @ 9:42 pm
  • I was on Facebook to network and surf around looking for people with common interests. Now 99.99999999999999% of accounts are closed. What am I to do? Friend people then ask them what we’ve got in common?

    Comment by John Mullany — November 24, 2009 @ 9:27 pm
  • I’m a relativly new member of facebook. I’m retired and would like to find members who live near me. Why do I have to work or attend a university in order to network? That’s discrimination!

    Comment by Irene Elbrand — December 6, 2009 @ 8:10 am
  • Hey great post! I also like the rest of your website…very interesting focus and stands out from the crowd, at least to me!

    Comment by Mike L — January 4, 2010 @ 5:51 am

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