Facebooked

Fbkd_1Sometimes the difference between thinking about design and having design happen to you hits you in the face. This happened to me yesterday — I’ve followed the launch of Facebook’s Beacon program and ensuing controversy, and had seen screenshots of the feature, but had never seen it in the wild. Yesterday I was printing out tickets from Fandango for Sweeney Todd (quick review: well done but not for the squeamish and/or those recovering from the flu) and this little creature popped out at me (with a nice transition animation). Suddenly the theoretical was real, and frankly a little jarring.

My immediate reactions:

  • I noticed this, in a way that I would never see much similarly positioned pop-up ad crap. This is probably a combination of the smoothness of the animation and the clean design — I’m not sure if I immediately clocked that the message was from Facebook, but the design definitely cued "Not an ad."
  • I knew what it was. Unclear if I would have without being pre-informed, but it is pretty clearly messaged.
  • It was shocking in a way I didn’t expect — it’s one thing to intellectually grapple with the implications of a thing and another to actually be shocked by it. Apparently on some gut level I didn’t expect my personal habits to be (potentially) publicized in this context, even while I’m in the industry and know at a different level that it’s possible.

Fbkd_2At this point I was dragged out of the house by my wife, who wanted to make sure we didn’t let the process of design inquiry make us miss the movie. Afterwards, we talked it over and I thought a little more about my reactions, and also checked out the Facebook side of the interaction.

My slightly more considered reactions:

  • What is happening is pretty clearly messaged but what to do about it is not — it feels like they’re got disclosure down reasonably well, but the copy sets a pretty aggressive "this is hapening but you can make it stop if you must" tone that I’m not comfortable with, and which ends up being confusing (e.g. the uncheck-the-box-and-hit-OK opt-out interaction, which is a classic way to muddle folks up). I’m not sure whether this is intentional aggression or cluelessness.
  • Movies are actually a pretty good area for a feature like this — letting other folks know what movie I’m going to fits in well with the continuous partial attention-feeding nature of Facebook, Twitter, and etc., and they have a lot fewer downsides than other areas Beacon covers (movie-going is pretty low-risk from a privacy standpoint, and is less likely to ruin a surprise gift than broadcasting product purchases). If it had been, say, a book purchase, my negative reaction might have been even stronger.

So, not that last word on Beacon, or even my last word, just an interesting (to me) experience.

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