A friend sent me this article today, talking about Exfoliate; an Android app that automates the removal of old content from your Facebook account. According to the app’s makers, “Old content on social networking sites is a threat to your privacy. (…) Exfoliate can remove your own posts, comments, and likes, from your friends’ walls too. You can choose the age of items you wish removed, and Exfoliate will remove any items that are at least as old as your selection from any of your selected content areas. It is important, though, to understand that Exfoliate truly deletes the content. It is not backed up and it is not recoverable – well, that’s kinda the point.”.
Obviously the app is squarely aimed at young professionals who need to clean up there public image and remove those embarrassing posts and photos from their hedonistic past. A little exercise in “brand management” for individuals. But what’s really interesting about this is the debate that it opens up – do people really want a permanent record of everything they do? Clearly Facebook think we do, and are banking on it with the roll out of the Facebook Timeline which aims to tell your life story via displaying all your Facebook activity in chronological order.
But I wonder that as a generation grows up with Facebook they may encounter an interesting problem – some things about your past you’d just rather not have public. Does your 15 year old goth really want the world to know that two years ago they loved JLS? And when that goth kid becomes a young professional, maybe they dont want their piers knowing they went through a year long phase of wearing black trench coats and worshipping Satan? Growing up, and discovering who you are isn’t easy, and recording it all within Facebook is bound to leave behind a trail of embarrassing content that, in the short term, people might just wish wasnt there anymore.
Theres a great quote from the apps creator, Michael Devine: “When you really think about it, it becomes clear that there’s actually no reason to leave anything (on Facebook) after a certain point in time because no one sees it or they rarely see it. It just sits there waiting for someone to see it out of context and then it can cause you trouble.” He goes futher than this and talks about how all this old content is for Facebook’s benefit rather than the users benefit. Facebook need it in building up your character profile in order to feed you relevant advertising.
I wonder if this is just the start of a new backlash against Facebook? Facebook want us to keep everything, but we dont really need / want to, we just share things for people to look at at the time we post it, then its gone and on to the next thing. The other coming backlash will surely be against what Zuckerberg calls “frictionless sharing” – where what you are doing is being broadcast on Facebook automatically, without you having to click a “share” or “like” button. This is sure to catch people out – for instance the devastating moment when Spotify announces on Facebook that you listened to Westlife. I’ve personally just removed the Guardian Facebook app as I found the “I am now reading” messages it pumps out quite intrusive. Once again, these are all being shared in Facebook’s history of you that goes back to the day you signed up for an account. In the same way you should think before you open your mouth, I believe you should think before you share, but Facebook wants us to let go, stop editing ourselves and let it all fill up our profiles and timelines. Is this the very thing that’s going to lead to its demise?
So the question I’m now wondering is, will the long fabled “Facebook killer” differentiate its self by not keeping anything for more than a few days? That’s a paradigm that Facebook couldn’t easily copy, like in the way it has borrowed from Google+, last weeks “new Facebook”. It would be quite interesting watching your posts count down to their self destruction date and quite possibly change the way we share for ever. It would allow people to be as reckless as they like, to live in the moment and not care about its appearance on your permanent record. As Facebook tries to cement its self as something that’s not going away, it changes the way users perceive it, and therefore how they use it; opening up new opportunities for others.