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New Networks Target Discomfort With Facebook

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New Networks Target Discomfort With Facebook

Digital Life

New Networks Target Discomfort With Facebook

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Google recently lost its spot as the most visited site on the Internet to Facebook. The social networking site has over half a billion active users and is still growing. But discontent with Facebook is also growing. NPR's Laura Sydell wonders how long it will be before another kind of social network comes along.

LAURA SYDELL: It's hard to argue with a company that gets one in four page views on the Internet. But Finn Brunton, a post-doctoral researcher at New York University, likes to argue.

Mr. FINN BRUNTON (Researcher, New York University): Because Facebook is not smarter than all the rest of the programmers in the entire world. Somebody is going to come up with a workaround, or some kind of social structure is going to emerge that is going to need a new kind of system. But it's just a question of when, and what form it's going to take.

SYDELL: Visit a college campus like Stanford University, and you might find some clues about what it would take. Estela Marie Go says her social media class did an exercise that changed the way she interacts with Facebook. The class played a game and projected everyone's Facebook profile on a big screen.

Ms. ESTELA MARIE GO (Student, Stanford University): Their names were crossed off, and the people in the class had to guess whose profile was whose.

SYDELL: Suddenly, Go realized she didn't like the way Facebook forced her to define herself with a list of interests.

Ms. GO: They encourage you to basically, just have these little headlines. I guess I want people to ask me more questions - not to just assume oh, she likes "The Office" so maybe she's this type. It wasn't holistic of who I am.

SYDELL: After the exercise, Go erased most of her Facebook page. Go says everyone in her class had a similar reaction. Many had other complaints, too.

Stephanie Parker doesn't like that the default on her Facebook is to share everything with everyone. Her mom doesn't need to know about last night's dorm party.

Ms. STEPHANIE PARKER (Student, Stanford University): Relatives or colleagues would be confused or ask questions about things that I'm posting, just because they don't see that side of me in real life. And I have to explain it and/or defend it in some cases.

SYDELL: Another student in the class, Shuqiao Song, says she's getting nervous about how much information Facebook has about her.

Ms. SHUQIAO SONG (Student, Stanford University): Everything is up there, right? You could look through an archive of all of my messages, all of my status updates, like every interaction I've had on Facebook.

SYDELL: Howard Rheingold, who teaches the social media class at Stanford, says he's noticed growing discomfort among his students.

Professor HOWARD RHEINGOLD (Stanford University): When the first class began to not get into their graduate school, or not get jobs, because of their drunken Facebook pictures, people began to change their norms.

SYDELL: Student Estela Marie Go checks her Facebook wall 10 times a day to see what other people have written on it in case she needs to erase someone's posting.

Ms. GO: The wall, in a way, is controlled by other people. You don't have full control of it. And so if they write something that's not representative of yourself, I guess, people could read it in the time that you didn't check it.

SYDELL: So far, these fears don't appear to be cutting into Facebook's growth. Organized protest campaigns haven't enticed many people to shut down their accounts. But NYU's Finn Brunton believes it's early days for social networks.

Mr. BRUNTON: I suspect that Facebook is definitely not the last form of social network that we see. And in many ways, we're going to look back at it as being the most primitive.

SYDELL: Brunton says he's seeing a lot of start-ups that are trying to solve the problems that Facebook creates or fails to address.

Mr. BRUNTON: And the things that are going to come next, the things that are going to evolve out of this, are not just going to be much better at privacy and much better at data management; they're also going to be much better at allowing people to accurately represent the complexity of their lives and their relationships.

SYDELL: I mean, everybody doesn't need to know all your business. That's what a start-up in a big, empty loft in downtown San Francisco is trying to reflect.

Laura.

Unidentified Man: Dave.

SYDELL: Nice to meet you, Dave. Yeah, it's definitely start-up territory in here, huh?

Mr. LEO SHIMIZU (Co-Founder, Pip.io): Absolutely.

SYDELL: Leo Shimizu is one of the founders of Pip.io. It lets users post real-time public updates to friends and strangers, but it also has very tight privacy controls.

Mr. SHIMIZU: So if Facebook is about replicating your real-world social graph and connecting you to people, what we're about is replicating your real-world privacy graph.

SYDELL: Pip.io has what Shimizu calls channels. Users can set up completely closed groups for sharing postings, photos, videos - and your mom doesn't have to see.

Mr. SHIMIZU: My mom would be considered a trusted source, but she may not necessarily need to get the posts about me going out Friday night.

SYDELL: Shimizu would like Pip.io to be the next Facebook in terms of growth, but he's got a lot of competitors - not to mention Facebook itself, which keeps adding functions like groups and email.

And though many people may have problems with Facebook, it isn't that easy to just leave.

Student Estela Marie Go is also editor of the Stanford yearbook, and she needs to use Facebook because everyone has an account.

Ms. GO: And it's so easy to just send out messages for information that I need.

SYDELL: Facebook has the momentum - almost everyone is there. But increasingly, people want the virtual world to mirror the subtleties of the real world. And if Facebook doesn't provide that, another company just might.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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