The little problems of coarse-grained privacy

I have to admit that I’m taking twitter a lot more seriously than I used to — at Arisia this year, @shava23 convinced that me that, if you manage your flist very carefully, it can be an extremely useful information feed.  Yes, many people still post too many “I’m eating waffles!” tweets, but if you ignore those and focus on friending people who mainly post content, it can be concisely useful.

(There are lots of folks who use Twitter for socializing.  Honestly, I don’t get that: even Facebook is a lot better at it than Twitter is.)

But it’s still got real problems, and one of those problems is its ridiculous all-or-nothing privacy model.  In most social networks, you choose on a post-by-post basis which items are locked and which are public; in the good ones, you can design highly customized filters for who will get to see what.  But in Twitter, either your entire feed is public, or it’s all locked — there’s no in-between.  That made sense when all posts were via SMS, but I think that stopped being the case quite some time ago.

This has some serious mal-effects — and one of them relates directly to that usefulness thing.  Consider: Twitter is most useful if you limit your following to people whose post information you find useful.  It’s still a social network, though, so unfriending is fraught — I’m sometimes forced to do so, in the interests of keeping that filter narrow, but it’s not something to do casually.  And if somebody’s feed is locked, I can’t see anything they say until *after* I friend them and they allow me in.

The result is that I find myself leery of friending anybody whose feed is locked.  Before I friend them, I can’t see what it’s like, to figure out if it’s information-rich.  And I’ve been doing social networks for long enough to be just a little nervous about the potential drama if I follow somebody, see that they’re posting way too much, and immediately drop them.  So I wind up not reciprocating a bunch of follows, which hurts the social network.

(Yes, it’s now possible to use lists to limit who I am actually reading.  In the long run, this may ameliorate the problem.  But third-party support for lists is still often crappy, so I’m not using them as much as I might wish yet.  Someday…)


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