Sunday, March 6, 2011

Facebook Comments Box: Who Needs Anonymity?

It's finally here. A few days ago Facebook has officially made a bid to become portable identity service for all Web 2.0 sites. It's called Facebook Comments Box.

What used to be known as Facebook commenting plugin has been fully revamped to create super easy commenting system for all blogs, news sites and every sites in between. It allows users to sign on to their Facebook accounts and start posting comments to participating websites using their Facebook ID.

How To: Create a Comments Box with Facebook Connect in 5 Minutes
from Pete Bratach on Vimeo.

Facebook has made everything easy. In order for a website to start offering Facebook-powered comments section, website admin has to create an application, receive a set of identifying keys and add a file plus a couple of snippets of codes to each webpage. For Facebook users, it's even easier. Chances are that you are already spending about 30 minutes a day on Facebook, and if you happened to be logged on to Facebook, you don't need to do a thing. You just scroll down to the bottom of page, type up a comment and click 'comment'. That easy.

Facebook Comment Moderation Tool:
More Value For Site Admins
That's not all. Facebook is also offering free comment moderation tool to filter out SPAMs or unwanted comments if you wish to do so. This is in addition to all the Facebook Insights reporting tool that's already available to run analytics on comments left by visitors. Remember that with Facebook Insights you are getting demographics and expressed interests of visitors from Facebook profile, not the boring user-agent tags and country-level IP geolocation data only.

And as Steve Jobs might say, there is "one more thing". Facebook Comments Box lets user post the comment on the user's Wall. This alone may not have been that interesting, but Facebook is allowing subsequent comments to the original comments made on user's Wall to be posted back to the originating website.

It all seems too good to be true. As website admin you get the advantage of all comments are backed by Facebook accounts which would probably mean less SPAM and trolls for the time being, not to mention the simplicity to add comments feature (did I mention that you get wonderful analytics too?). As visitor you get to expect the familiar Facebook commenting experience from other smaller sites. And of course as Facebook, now they can extend their power over all the small independent sites by collecting visitor info and comments. Facebook will be one step closer to becoming Internet identity provider.

Now question is 'will people embrace this new Facebook commenting system?' That is indeed a multi-million dollar question. Incumbent Disqus, socially challenged Google and the number two social network Twitter will counter this Facebook's move to dominate Internet identity market.

I think that Facebook's success with Comments Box is less than clear for following reasons:

1. People segment their lives into multiple facets in reality

In real life, people don't share everything with everyone. There are certain topics that you share with co-workers, others that you share with friends, and yet others that you share with family members. Often people play different roles depending on social settings (as for me, I play father, husband, friend, mentor, employee and at times employeer). Depending on the role people interact with others differently and they have implicit image of what role they are playing when they engage in conversation. When that assumption is blurred, it discourages the engagement.

2. There are times where anonymity is needed for good reasons

Sometimes anonymity is not an option but requirement. Examples would be discussing personal medical issues, talking about finance and debts, sharing personal views that might be different from company that you represent, and so forth. There are also times when anonymity is preferred, such as seeking relationship advice. These are all valid reasons to comment anonymously, and Facebook Comments Box will discourage these behaviors.

3. Collecting all written comments is akin to wiretapping all phone conversation

If you realize that someone is sitting behind the monitor and collecting all comments that you ever made, you'll think twice before making the comment. This is akin to phone company wiretapping you on all conversation that you had regardless whether the call was made from mobile phone, landline or someone else's phone (remember that Facebook login is available from everywhere) and making the data accessible to themselves. Would you use that phone line even if the phone company assures you that they won't use the data against your wish?
TechCrunch's Facebook Comments Box:
Facebook's Goal Is Not Cracking Down On Fake Accounts

4. Facebook is not really interested in cracking down on all fake accounts

Although Facebook Terms of Service prohibits users from creating fake accounts, Facebook doesn't have much to gain by cracking down on all fake users. Cleaning up those fake accounts is an overhead from Facebook's perspective, and I don't see this changing anytime soon (of course there have been some exceptions where flagrant violations have been swiftly dealt with). That means there will continue to be silly comments and flames by trolls even with Facebook Comments Box.

What do you think of Facebook Comments Box? As a blogger or web admin will you incorporate it into your site? As visitor will you leave comments on Facebook Comments Box? Why or why not?

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