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Facebook Wall and Privacy Study

Introduction

Facebook has two main user concepts - the 'wall' and the news feed. They are very similar in appearance and operation: when you add something via your news feed it appears on your wall and vice-versa. When users log in to the Facebook web site, they are presented with their news feed (which is an aggregation of all of their friend's walls by default). Since email messages about friends' postings refer to the wall and users see the very similar news feed when the visit the site, they may well get the impression that they are looking at the wall when they log in. A further issue is that Facebook privacy is potentially quite complex, with a matrix of choices organized by posting type. So for example, by default everyone can see my posts, but only friends of friends can see photos or videos I'm tagged in.

The Study

To find out if users really were confused about these points I ran a very brief online survey in July 2010. There were five questions in total. Respondents were asked not to refer to the Facebook site but to provide their recollections.

  1. How long have you been using Facebook actively? (answers in months)
  2. How often do you use Facebook? (hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or less often)
  3. What is your main mode of access? (web, iphone, other smartphone, ipad, other)
  4. Using a web browser (www.facebook.com) how do you get to your Wall once you access the site? (do nothing, home tab, profile tab, account tab)
  5. By default, who can see your Wall? (everyone, friends, friends + friends of friends, depends on what is posted)

Two responses with answers less than one month were discarded, resulting in 321 records in total. The overall results are listed below by question:

  1. How long have you been using Facebook actively?
Mean:
26.4 months
Std Dev:
14.3 months
  1. How often do you use Facebook?
Hourly:
10.0%
Daily:
59.5%
Weekly:
19.0%
Monthly:
6.5%
Less often:
5.0%
  1. What is your main mode of access?
Web:
76.3%
iPhone:
15.0%
Other Smartphone:
4.4%
iPad:
2.5%
Other:
1.9%
  1. Using a web browser (www.facebook.com) how do you get to your Wall once you access the site? [Do nothing and home tab have been combined since they are equivalent]
Do nothing /
home tab:
49.5%
Profile tab:
48.9%
Account tab:
1.6%
  1. By default, who can see your Wall?
Everyone:
24.3%
Friends:
48.9%
Friends of friends:
17.4%
Depends on content:
9.0%

Discussion

In question 4, respondents were asked how they reached their wall using the Facebook web site. A little under half provided the correct answer of 'profile tab', with half stating they would do nothing or use the home tab. Since it is possible that Facebook users are just not very good at remembering how to reach their wall, these results cannot be taken as proof that users are confusing the wall and news feed concepts, but the results do suggest that may be the case.

Respondents' main mode of access to Facebook (Q3) was not a significant factor in the responses to Q4, but was somewhat significant for Q5 (c2(12, 321) = 21.97, p < 0.05). Length of use (Q1) was also significant (F(2, 318) = 6.35, p < 0.01 for Q4 and F(2, 318) = 3.01, p < 0.05 for Q5), but the strongest relationship was between Q2 (frequency of use) and Q4 (c2(8, 321) = 31.24, p < 0.001) as can be seen in the chart below. This shows that frequent users (hourly or daily) were more likely to know how to reach their wall than casual users (weekly, monthly or less often).

Chart suggesting that casual users (weekly or less often) were confused about walls and news feeds

Finally, the results for Q5 (who can see your wall) shows that very few respondents (9%) were aware that wall items are visible according to their content type. (The basic Facebook account privacy page makes no mention of 'wall'.)

Conclusion

The current design of Facebook uses a relatively meaningless term ('wall') for one of its most important concepts. Because it is very similar, but not identical to the main 'news feed', users may find it hard to distinguish between the two, as the results above suggest (but do not prove since respondents may simply have misremembered how to get to their wall). A more meaningful approach, and one that would address confusion over the Facebook privacy model, would be to dispose of the wall as a concept altogether and simply allow users to filter their news feed so that they can see the results of their privacy settings directly. In this model, the wall is equivalent to the news feed filtered on 'visible to me only' (or similar) with other settings being 'visible to friends', 'visible to friends of friends' and 'visible to everyone'.

William Hudson
3 August 2010

 
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