the social norms now | mark zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, did an 8 Jan 2010 interview at TechCrunch's Crunchies awards which is getting a lot of buzz.

Many seem pretty concerned about the personal implications of the shifts (or eliminations) of privacy features.  Michael Arrington and others are saying that is controversy is overblown, for two reasons:  Zuckerberg did not actually say "the age of privacy is over" (if you watch the interview above its not there).  But secondly:  the age of privacy is already over, writes Arrington, starting with credit agencies (important point.)

What's more interesting to me in the whole mess is the interplay between the technology company and the cultural assumptions.  Zuckerberg, who has clearly been near the top of the list of cultural influencers over the last 4 years, is expressing a pretty lucid awareness of his power to change the norms.  He says that Facebook is responding to the norms:

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that's evolved over time.

But before you can jump in with an "ah!" to ask "don't you think Facebook is driving those norms as well?" he essentially admits just that.  Watch the tone shift happen before your eyes:

We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.  So now, a lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they've built, doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the type of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner's mind and think: what would we do if we were starting the company now, and starting the site now, and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.

Questions and implications: Can a tech company play a leading role in cultural change? Yep. Tech companies have supplanted ideas like "Hollywood" in cultural formation, by 1000 times. It's nice to exegete movies, but a privacy policy change in Facebook will have significantly more real world impact on how we think, know, relate, assume, and believe. In some ways it's always been like this. TV manufacturers changed the patterns of urbanization, education, family life way more than Lucille Ball ever did.

The social graph? Does this move us closer or further from Mark Zuckerberg's social graph—modeling real social relationships are they already are?  He wants to say its closer, but it really is further.  Many have heard me say early on that  Facebook was unique and positioned to "win" because it didn't treat users like Google or MySpace treated them:  a speck in a sea of information.  Instead it modeled a small relational web based on real networks—a meta layer of information on top of the people we interact with every day (although to see why people don't always think of it this way, see:  Toy, Tool, Environment).  I still believe this is how social media in an information society is properly thought of:  not a separate world, but one fused to reality.  That said, Mark Z's decision here moves him slightly away from his vision probably in the name of further market reach and profit.

ps - Facebook Connect. Notice Mark's emphasis on Facebook Connect, the tool that links Facebooks's login information to thousands of other websites and coming web applications (I even have it set up here on theo|digital).  His assumption that this is the future of Facebook reinforces my consistent mantra "Facebook is the new Google"--that our information will be filtered and managed by our relational connections.  Okay, done.  :)