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January 9, 2008

Social.IM, A Whole New Kind of Creepy

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I’ve often been told that I should be careful of what I wish for. Two years ago I wished for a fun new job and I got Susan. Shortly after that I wished for an exciting new pet and I got Jack Jack. Then, a few months ago I wished that Facebook would release an IM product so that I could easily chat with all my Facebook buddies and now I got Social.Im. I should just stop wishing. [Hey now, one time you wished for cookies and I provided! --Susan]

But a Facebook IM client sounded like a good idea. I have 200+ friends on Facebook (I know, but I’m discriminating) and being able to easily chat with them without being forced to communication via Wall posts, clumsy message or add their real IMs to my instant messaging client was a very welcomed concept. Especially if you consider that after work hours, I’m constantly logged into a Facebook screen anyway. What I wanted was an easy way to chat with all my new friends, what I got was a way for people to stalk me. Crap.

I’m all for being social, but I like to control that social network. I want to be able to set who can see what. It’s important to me and if you don’t give me a way to do that, I’m probably not going to play in your world. I fell in love with Facebook because it gave me complete control over my information; however, the new IM client for Facebook does not. Not even a little.

When I log in, I see this.

Facebook has used their spiffy API to pull the names and faces of my 207 or so Facebook friends. Great! Except every one of these 207 people can also see me, at all times, and there’s no way for me to change that. Not even if I go into the preferences. (I can, however, decide whether or not I want to show my "toast" alert notifications. I have no idea what that is or means, but I’m glad I’m able to control it.)

See, that doesn’t work for me. What I if want to be super sly and log into Facebook IM during work hours (don’t worry, Bruce, I would never do that) to "network" with SEOs and chat about "really important stuff?" Chances are I’d like the option to block Susan so that she can’t see me. Or what if I’m home chatting on a Friday night and I’d like to block out that cute guy that lives down the hall to give him the illusion that I have a social life and am not sitting in front of my computer on a Friday instead of being out partying or drinking or whatever it is the cool kids do? I can’t do that. And because of Social.IM, aforementioned cute boy will know that I am geek, he will never ask me out, and we will never have perfect Tom Brady-esque babies. The horror! At least GTalk gives you the option to block people. They care about my dating life. [But if he's home to see that you're home, doesn't that increase the chances that he'll realize you're perfect for him?--Susan]

But there’s a lot of potential with this client if they’ll just add some nice privacy features. For example, I like that the client gives me quick access to Facebook information like wall posts, new messages, friend requests, pokes and photos newly tagged with my name. It even gives me a little desktop alert when my friends update their status messages. It made me smile when I got a popup to tell me that RustyBrick had updated his status. It’s like even though he’s all the way in New York with my BFF, me and Barry are still connected through the wondrous land of Facebook.

(I made Susan update her status [Twice! --Susan] so I could replicate the popup, however, it obviously didn’t induce the same heartwarming feeling as Barry’s did.)

But I want more privacy options.

If Social.IM is going to be Facebook’s official IM client, then it has to act more like Facebook. Facebook allows me to create friend groups where I can lump people into different categories based on how I know them. There’s also talk that I’ll soon be able to control my privacy settings based on those groups. For example, I can create a folder for "People I Don’t Really Know But Added Out Of Guilt" and only let them see a very limited view of my profile. Or I could create a group called "SEOs I Like" and give them full access to everything. And of course there would be that group labeled "Family" that I would have to block from every photo tagged with my name. If I’ll soon be able to do that in Facebook, Social.IM should have had the foresight to integrate it into their application, as well. Allow me to set who can see me online and how much they can see (everything, just that I’m online, not be able to read away messages, etc). I’d also like to arrange my friends by these groups, not by name, but I’ll take the other stuff first.

You would think with all the focus on privacy lately and allowing users to hold on to their data and use it how they want that these things would be at the forefront of software developer’s minds. But, it seems not.

Facebook, please go talk to the Social.IM people and help them to better their IM client. I like where it’s going but it’s not quite there yet. Kthx.

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5 responses to “Social.IM, A Whole New Kind of Creepy”

  1. Andrew Nagy writes:

    Good points. I find myself more and more disappointed with Facebook lately. They did get rid of the “is” in the status, so that’s a plus.

    And so you know, the toast notification is that popup that comes out of the bottom right of the screen. I guess because it pops out… like toast. :)

  2. Yanda Erlich writes:

    Hi Lisa,
    I’m Yanda, one of the creators of social.im. First off, thank you so much for your writeup!

    Second, I wanted to address your privacy concerns. I totally agree with your points and wanted to let you know that the privacy features you mentioned (blocking, grouping, etc…) are at the top of our feature list (right after resolving the post-launch bugs/issues).

    Lucas (my co-founder) and I are very strong supporters of users’ privacy and have been througout our entire careers. Facebook has a lot of privacy features which we love as well… and we’re working quickly to catch up in Social.IM in a few days the many features they’ve implemented over the past three years. I thank you in advance for your patience, and I promise being able to block individual users will be available very very soon (with more privacy/grouping features coming after that).

    Second, I wanted to clarify a potential misconception in your post. Facebook isn’t involved in any way with this client. Social.IM is built on top of Facebook’s developer API, much like all of the other “Facebook apps” out there: we just happen to be a desktop application and not a web-based one. So, Facebook is not to blame for any of the complaints you have about our product: that’s entirely our fault and ours to fix.

    We’re posting our latest updates to our blog at http://social-im.blogspot.com/. It’ll be the best way to find out when we’ve made the privacy changes you requested.

    In the meantime…thank you for trying the app and best regards,

    -Yanda-

  3. Eish writes:

    Wow…u really passionate about this Facebook IM :)

  4. Andrew Nagy writes:

    In regards to Yanda’s comment…
    Thank you for showing us what good PR really is, not what passes for PR these days.

  5. SEO Honolulu writes:

    Lisa,

    Let’s get real here. Adding in an instant messenger platform to such a hugely popular social platform is going to be trouble without establishing user democracy is going to be trouble through and through.

    Now in your case, you are a very social person online, and very approachable at that. You’re whole job is to get to know this community to a certain degree, and interact with it. Over time, you have met hundreds, if not thousands of people from this industry. People would love to meet you, because frankly, you’re a helluva cool person. Can’t blame them on that. :)

    Your grumblings are legit on this one. I know that the developers of this application only commented a few spaces above me about their goals, but frankly these are the kinds of things that make the difference between an alpha, beta or release candidate product.

    Let this be a lesson in wanting attention versus putting out a quality product. Hammer out the bugs based off of alpha release info, work on it in beta, go public in RC to generate buzz.

    This kind of facebook app has a place that is long overdue and empty. Take your time, nail it out and impress the world.



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