Zuckerberg, Lacy and the SXSW conference event

I had to write about this after the deluge of information online about Mark Zuckerberg’s interview by BusinessWeek columnist Sarah Lacy at the SXSW Interactive conference yesterday. You can view part of the interview here, but the essence of the controversy is that Lacy got majorly heckled by the audience and wasted her (and Zuckerberg’s) time by asking the reasonably high-profile and not-always-easily-accessible-by-the-media entrepreneur very few of the questions that millions of people are keen to know about his multi-billion-dollar website Facebook. Over the years – well, the last one year, to be more precise, Facebook has evolved into a movement of sorts. It didn’t exactly pioneer the social networking movement but it certainly took it to new heights, in a way that other similar sites like Orkut, hi5 or Friendster were not able to. Jeff Jarvis, associate professor and director of CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism has already blogged about where she went wrong and what she could have done to save the interview from going down the drain. He, in fact, plans to use the whole event as a lesson in his journalism classes about how not to conduct an interview.

I quickly tried to find a response from Sarah Lacy on the subject, and my trusty reference website YouTube came up with this. Take a look.

Zuckerberg says in his interview, in response to one question that Lacy did ask sensibly, that one thing that Facebook still needs to master is giving more control, or, if you ask me, more user-friendly control over the information they choose to let out on Facebook. From here:

“Almost all of the mistakes we made, we didn’t give people enough control. We need to give people complete control over their information,” said Zuckerberg. “The more control and the more granular the control, the more info people will share and the more we will be able to achieve our goals.”

I use Facebook quite often, and as a user, that’s probably my biggest issue. Sure, you can control who sees what – ‘only me’, ‘only my friends’, ‘all my friends and all my networks’ and all that, but with the privacy meter reading going up and down as it indicates red (for high privacy levels) or stays blue (for most publicly available stuff), it somehow leaves me with a very uncertain feeling. I’m just not sure at the end of the day what is going on. Plus of course, you have the million applications which mandatorily require you to allow them to ‘access your information’ before allowing you to install them. And again you are left with this uneasy feeling of how much information and what exactly this information that they are accessing is. No one knows, or even, as far as I can see, can know. So even if it is a very fun application, I often find myself not installing it because I don’t want to keep releasing my data to the holders or creators of random applications.

Last but not the least, you have the troublesome screen which always pops up after you decide that you’ll take the risk of adding the umpteenth application to your Facebook profile, inviting you to ask all or some of your friends (at the very least) to add the same application. In fact, Facebook even has a group to petition the owners/administrators to put an end to this. I think at some point eventually the group’s going to get some response, because that’s what happened with another issue it faced not so long ago: it finally caved in to user requests and removed the ‘is’ from it’s status message boxes. This meant that people could finally say ‘XYZ wants to eat chocolate’ instead of ‘XYZ is wanting to eat chocolate’, and generally just makes more sense, in addition to letting the user feel that they have more control over what they want to type.

Anyway, back on the topic of the SXSW conference, here’s a piece by BBC journalist Bill Thompson on the ‘sense of being there offered by Twitter’, so that he can keep up with the happenings at the conference though he wasn’t able to get to Austin this year. I looked at their speaker line-up for the interactive panels, and it looks very interesting. It ends tomorrow, though. I think it is by far one of the more interesting conference-festivals that we have today. No wonder it is getting so popular.

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