Tools of the Trade

Facebook has had an awful week, with rollouts and several blotched interviews with employees about the future of the website, with how the site is handling user information. While at points, I've been somewhat worried about what is going on with some of the changes, it's really no different than any other element of the internet, going back to when I first starting building websites online: there is nothing private on the internet. With that in mind, it's important to remember that Facebook is a tool, one that is highly popular, useful, and still very new, but when using it, it should be used as such.

The internet is a place that has absolutely revolutionized how we interact with people around the world. Personally, I work for a graduate school through Norwich University, which deals exclusively through the internet as a way to deliver its content to students enrolled in the various programs that we provide. Speaking as a student who's been through the Military History degree, the online aspect wasn't a huge barrier for me, and ultimately, for other students who go through the program, because the school has refined its methods and found the best way to deliver the content that makes up a graduate degree. And, having gone through the program, I can attest that because it's an online school, it's not an easy thing to do.

Things such as iPhones, Twitter, Facebook, the Angel Learning Platform, hardbound books, and so forth are all tools that are designed (or come to be designed to meet an end) for some purpose. Oftentimes, I've heard people talk about how useless it is to tweet, to be connected to an iPhone, and to spend one's time indoors reading all the time. While it's true that in a number of instances, online resources can be incredible time wasters, they can also be vital for networking, communicating and learning with any number of topics and subjects.

I've been largely leery of twitter, up until a couple of months ago, when I began speaking with several authors and websites through it. Not only did it open several possibilities, I've found that it's a fantastic, informal way to speak with people I might not have been able to speak with, and it allows me to spread what I write as well to those people, who might not ordinarily read my blog, or remember to. At the same point, where I've found that it's a fantastic way to keep in touch with some people, it's likewise a good way to spread news, stories, webpages and videos, like any good social media application should do.

Tools are tools, and the nature of online sites really makes it unclear as to what something is supposed to do. A hammer is supposed to pound nails into things, a car is supposed to transport a person from point A to B, in varying amounts of style, and a website is supposed to promote, create or make money. Facebook is doing just that, and it's doing it well. While I'm disturbed at the sheer amount of unleashed greed and disregard for any sort of ethics behind some of the business practices that Facebook seems to be moving in, it makes perfect business sense for what they're doing: as a business, they need to make money in order to keep the lights on, pay their employees and continue to innovate.

I don't know what the legal obligations are in place for the site to keep people's information secure. It seems like it would make good business sense for them to keep a lid on a lot of things, because with major news organizations and even Congress looking into what they are doing, that doesn't help business, and in the Darwinian world of commerce, something better, like Diaspora, which is touting itself as a startup that will be an open sourced, locked down alternative to Facebook, will take over and go from there. At the same point, users need to realize that Facebook is a sort of tool that allows for connections, and that inherently, they want to make as many connections between users, businesses and items as possible, and opening up information, with that context, makes a lot of sense.

It goes to show that whatever you put online, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's a safe haven. MySpace, Livejournal, Wordpress, Twitter, Facebook, Meebo, Friendster, and the whole lot of it, can be overcome and in all probability, someone else will see it, and they might not be people you want seeing that sort of thing, whether it's a boss, girl/boyfriend, parent, relative, or random other person who has some interest in you. The bottom line, for me, is that it shouldn't go online. Period.

When I heard some of the news coming down the pipeline about Facebook, I was more than a little annoyed. I was almost ready to wash my hands of it, walk away and not look back, but looking at what I use the site for, I would have a difficult time doing that: I use it to talk to people, to share information and to promote my own writing and articles when published, and I have no issues with that. It's become a dominant form of how we talk to each other, and the recent news serves as a good reminder that large businesses don't always have the user's interests at their heart. So, with a little more care online, plus an adblocker, I realize that I really don't care that Facebook sees and shares that i'm a fan of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Sherlock Holmes and Carbon Leaf - the information is there for people to see, and the information that's not there, isn't.