I’m going to post a description of a Facebook ‘feature’ that can really throw you for a loop if you’re unawares.

First off, some background. I’m a ‘power user’ who often exercises the features of software services to their limit, and so Google and Facebook often add me as an early adopter to many of their features (Google is nice enough to ask permission; Facebook just adds me to their beta group without asking me — really bad etiquette).

So for a few weeks now I’ve been using the ‘New’ Facebook before most people saw it. It was buggy, and worked slightly differently than what is live now.

They have a new feature called ‘Subscriptions’. It’s basically a way to allow public posting of your status updates — sort of like blog posts or Tweets, these are people who aren’t your friends will automatically see.

When I first was presented the ‘new’ Facebook interface a few weeks back, it asked me if I wanted to turn on ‘Subscriptions’ (it didn’t explain how it worked or anything). I turned it on not knowing what it was. Back then I tried to turn it off afterwards but could find no way to do so.

Then, without really telling you about it (at least, not that I recall) Facebook changed the way your status updates work — by default (at least for me), the status updates are ‘public’, meaning anyone who subscribes to your ‘public’ feed can see your status updates. Essentially, at this point, if you don’t take extra steps to limit the scope of who can see your status updates to ‘friends’, you are friends with the entire world.

If you’ve turned on ‘Subscriptions’ without really realizing the impact of this move, this screenshot shows how you turn it off (click the two images on this post to enlarge them).

I’m not sure if this is technically a privacy violation (I’m sure they’re updated fine print in their legal text says essentially “we don’t guarantee anything is private”) but it is sure something to give parents pause.

The issue is that Facebook is so confusing and poorly managed that users can easily opt into settings which are contrary to what they want. On a related note, I am becoming increasingly concerned that Facebook has no interest in allowing any parental controls of any kind — parents cannot control these features if their child has an account — there is no ‘parent admin’ role. Facebook clearly does not have the safety of children in mind.

Facebook is totally bungling their customer experience. There are some many examples of this. One glaring example is that some things can only be changed via ‘Edit Options’ at the bottom of the page, which is hard to get to because, if you scroll down, the pages dynamically retrieves more status posts, meaning it’s a race against time to scroll to the bottom of the page. If you’re too slow, you’ll NEVER be able to get to this feature. A very bad experience which is effectively reducing your control over your privacy.

My personal theory is that Facebook is so afraid of the explosive growth of Google+ (a Facebook competitor) that they are rushing features out without sufficient testing — a very bad idea.

I’m not sure what the answer is to this issue — Google+ isn’t perfect (they’ve had privacy issues too — remember Google Buzz?) but in general Google is better managed and is a company I trust more in such matters. So I recommend considering adopting Google+ and giving it a go. It will take a while before enough folks are on it to make it viable, but Google has the smarts to make things easy and intuitive.

Here’s how to sign up for it: plus.google.com/up/start

You shouldn’t need an invite at this point, but if for some reason you do, drop me an email at stanshinn@gmail.com and I’ll send you one.