September 5th, 2007
Facebook has rolled out public stripped down versions of user profiles that are crawlable by search engines, which has lots of upside for Facebook, but raises privacy issues for personal users and has questionable utility for business users. Here’s what I found when I logged into Facebook:
Here’s what you see when you click through to the Privacy Settings For Search:
Facebook will claim, not unreasonably, that they have alerted all of their users to the new public search listing feature and given them full control of their privacy. There’s only one problem with that — the public search listing is turned ON by default, and many users won’t take the time to decide whether it makes sense for them to turn it off.
As Om Malik points out: “One of the great features of Facebook was privacy. You could be assured that what was in Facebook remained in Facebook.”
While business professional may want to be found on the open web, other people (especially teenagers and college students) who just want to connect with their friends, don’t necessarily want or need to be found publicly. The value proposition that you can be discovered by one of your “friends” who does a Google search for you but who didn’t think to look for you in Facebook rings false — is there anyone under 25, or over 25 for that matter, who wouldn’t think of searching for their friends directly on Facebook?
That leaves only the value proposition for business users of Facebook. Search optimizing public profiles for business users is a smart move and potentially creates a lot of value for professionals who want to control their identity in search.
The problem for business users (which you can add to the other Facebook business use problems), is that there’s not a lot of utility in having a public profile if the details are locked behind a garden wall that prospective business contacts are forced to scale in order to gain access.
By comparison, the LinkedIn public profile is FAR more useful for business use, since you don’t need to be a LinkedIn user to view someone’s public profile. (Here’s my LinkedIn profile.) Of course, you do need to join LinkedIn to contact someone through LinkedIn, but the public profile has huge value for finding out about a business contact’s professional background and experience before contacting them by phone or email (if you have that direct contact info).
Facebook itself will undoubtedly enjoy more search traffic, page views, and new user registrations — focusing on search and SEO is generally very smart. But it’s not clear the way they’ve implemented these public search profiles creates a whole lot of value for their users — as is typical for one-size-fits all applications, one-size-fits feature implementations often underperform for all users. It will be interesting to see how Facebook users react.
Danny Sullivan points out that Facebook actually implemented and experimented with this feature prior to announcing it — wonder what the backstory to that is.