Why Facebook launched usernames

There’s been a lot of talk about why Facebook released usernames, and why their opening up their user’s data (i.e. the stream). One of the great assets of Facebook–and in fact one of the reasons why it grew compared to MySpace–was its “private by default” feeling. No more… now you can have Facebook.com slash anything.

When using Facebook your stream and userpage felt hidden and only viewable by your closet friends. Facebook data didn’t come up on Google searches and, in fact, folks didn’t even know how to tell you where their page even was. However, the pressure that Twitter has put on Facebook in their “open by default” system (note: you can make your tweets private if you choose to–but it’s open by design–as are your relationships!).

This is a fascinating flow we’re seeing from public social networks (MySpace) giving up ground to private ones (like LinkedIn and Facebook), that are now rethinking their default position thanks to the public-facing Twitter.

In one of the science-fiction (near-scifi) pieces I started writing but never released I thought about email boxes being public by default with a flag having to be turned on if you wanted a conversation flipped private. This basically lead to a level of “quiet-lifetime stalking” that would never be revealed in some cases, and in banks and banks of “life coaches” our of Indian who would email you tips on how to evolve your communications on a pay-per-intervention model.

Twitter is the start of the “public by default” email box…. and Facebook is now flipping their default positions on privacy to catch up. It’s only a matter of time before your thought-stream is public. How fascinating would it be if Robin Williams’ thoughts were streamed to the web non-stop in twitter posts: grey for thoughts that were unspoken, light grey for thoughts that were unconscious and black text for stuff we actually said.

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