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.
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, 842 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:
Ostensibly, 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.
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.