Last week, and without much in the way of fanfare, Facebook launched a new feature on their massively popular social network called “Friendship Pages“. The tool lets you view an aggregated page of all of the comments, likes and wall posts that two of your Facebook buddies have had with each other. You can also see the friends they have in common, the events they both attended and the photos in which both of them are tagged. In fact these pages even pull the most recent photo in which the two people are tagged as the profile photo for the upper left corner.
To try it out, go to the profile page of any of your friends. Under their profile photo, you’ll see a new link that says “View You and Friend” – this will take you to the Friendship Page for you and that friend. On this page you’ll see a brick in the top right corner called “Browse Friendships” where you can see the Friendship Pages belonging to any two of your other friends. The only time this won’t work is if you don’t have permission to see both people’s profiles.
While this new feature doesn’t change a thing in terms of privacy – none of the info visible through Friendship Pages was hidden previously – the reaction that people are having toward it suggests that it crosses the murky “creepy line” and reactions on Twitter seem to bear this out.
The reason for the reaction seems to centre around context. Even though Facebook users are now well and truly aware of the fact that items they post to the site are visible to their network of friends (assuming that you haven’t modified your privacy settings), being able to browse these interactions chronologically and in as much depth as you like, changes the dynamic just enough that it raises serious questions.
As one colleague pointed out, Facebook interactions are often one part of multi-platform experience. The effect of reading a comment thread between two friends on Facebook is like listening to one half of a conversation – especially if those two people are engaged in real-world, SMS, Twitter, Instant Messenger and other forms of communication. And unless you decide to block someone from seeing your profile page, there is no way to turn off their access to your Friendship Pages.
Perhaps the sensitivity around this new feature is based on the realization that Facebook has now become a prime tool in court cases, many of which are divorce proceedings.
In his introduction to the new feature, Facebook engineer Wayne Kao says, “When it’s between two people who share a lot, the page really starts to reflect their friendship.” I think that might be the dark side to this well-intentioned tool.
Stories of people “Face-stalking” their exes, cheating with other Facebook users or even trolling their former classmates looking for potential romantic affairs are easy to find. And while Friendship Pages aren’t likely to reveal romantic liaisons given that the information is already shared, the social patterns they bring to light might be the start of some uncomfortable conversations between partners, or between exes.
So readers, if you Facebook, please take our poll and leave us a comment – what’s your take on Friendship Pages? Cool or Creepy?