Facebook’s plan to map entire lives

With the announcement of some radical new changes, Facebook hails a revolution in how we share our lives with those around us. Is the new format the future – or a step too far?

Changes to Facebook, which arrive every few years, are now a common routine. 'We hate the new Facebook' pages are set up and millions of users threaten to leave the site. Then a few weeks pass, and users get used to it – locked in by a web of contacts, they have no choice but to remain loyal to the world's leading social network.

But, last week, its founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his most ambitious changes yet. Facebook's vision is to become an embodiment of its users' identities – a fully integrated record sharing everything we consume online.

Currently, if a user wants to share a song or video clip on Facebook, they choose to – clicking on an icon, or posting on a friend's wall. Now apps will automatically share all their activity on a certain media platform: publishing everything they listen to on Spotify, watch on a video or TV site, or read in the Wall Street Journal or Daily Mail.

And rather than disappearing on the end of a chronological feed, as it currently does, all this information will remain on the 'Timeline' – a new type of profile, which documents a user's whole life through photographs, experiences, and friends.

For Facebook, the changes are a calculated risk. With 800 million users worldwide, it's never been more popular, but Google+ and Twitter are putting pressure on the company to keep the site fresh and exciting.

But these other forms of social media also mean that unhappy users have other options if they want to leave.

Zuckerberg's changes are based on the idea that our online sharing will increase exponentially – doubling year on year. But many complain that Facebook is trying to force us into this by making sharing 'passive': under the new settings we share by default, and can only make a choice if we don't want to make something public. Such in-depth information about consumers is worth billions to Facebook attracting advertising – but it also puts users at risk of sharing things they'd rather not.

Lost in cyberspace?

For many, the internet is synonymous with opportunity. Anyone, wherever they are in the world, can express their identity online, they say – and the free exchange of media has expanded the range of our experience as never before.

But does this free flow of information really increase the richness of our lives? For some, the idea that someone's whole existence could be contained under the blue band of Facebook, open to commercial interests ranging from advertisers to researchers, is intensely disquieting. By publishing everything we do, do we reduce our lives to a performance – sharing so much that anything with personal meaning becomes lost in an overwhelming tide?

You Decide

  1. Do you feel uncomfortable with the idea that third parties – advertisers, teachers or potential employers – could view your profile on Facebook?
  2. At the conference where Zuckerberg made his annoucement, the crowd was told that 'you get closer to your authentic identity when you share everything'. Do you agree?

Activities

  1. Design a poster advocating responsible use of social media.
  2. Imagine a board meeting, at Facebook's headquarters, focused on setting up the new changes. Research the changes, and have some members argue for the proposals and some against – and decide what you think.

Some People Say...

“The internet is taking over our lives.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I've heard that Facebook is going to start charging people when the new changes come up. Is this true?
Worry not – the rumours are hoaxes. Facebook will remain free, for the foreseeable future at least.
So how does it make money?
Primarily through advertisements, which are targeted at users according to words that appear on their profile. If you're listed as 'single' on your profile, for example, you might see an ad for a dating agency.
What about Facebook's rivals – how are they different?
Other, newer social networks have some new features that are forcing Facebook to raise their game. On Google+ you can group different friends, for example, like workmates or family, into groups that can only access certain information about you.

Word Watch

Facebook
The world's leading social networking site, on which users create personal profiles and share photographs, messages or internet links. Half a billion people recently visited Facebook in one day alone.
Mark Zuckerberg
The co-founder of Facebook, which he created with 3 friends from Harvard University, in 2004. Born in 1984, he is estimated to be worth $17.5 billion, and has been named Time magazine's person of the year.
Integrated
Different programs which work together, so you can watch TV or listen to music without leaving a social networking site like Facebook.

Exponentially
When quantities increase on an upward curve: the information we share today, allegedly, is double what we shared last year, which was double that of the year before. This means enormous increases.

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