Facebook announced a tweak to its practices last night, a change that for any other social site would be prosaic, but for Facebook is momentous: Some of its pages will now be accessible to people who aren't logged in. Facebook calls these pages "public search listings" -- basically it means that someone who isn't a member of Facebook can now see a small bit of Facebook members' pages. And not only can people do this: So too can Google, Yahoo, and other search engines. Soon, what you do on Facebook will end up on Google.
While making this change, Facebook, which has always been walled off from the rest of the Web, is very careful to note that it cares about people's privacy.
The information exposed to non-members and search engines will be minimal -- they'll see your name, your picture, a list of your friends, and a way to contact you through Facebook. And though this feature will be turned on by default, you can turn it off -- that is, keep your listings away from non-members and search engines -- through your Facebook privacy settings page.
What's momentous about Facebook's decision is the effect on the rest of the Web. Facebook is quickly becoming the Web's social networking standard, the place where, soon, everyone -- across demographic and social classes, it now seems -- will maintain a profile. Now that profile will be exposed to anyone looking for information about you, transforming Facebook, as Om Malik puts it, into the "quasi-White Pages of the Web."
To me, that sounds like just what the Web needs. Right now, if you search for my name on Google you find a Wikipedia page, several articles I've written, and much criticism about my work.
Most of what you'll find, in other words, tells you what Farhad Manjoo has done. But is that what you want to know? Anyone typing in my name at Google is, I bet, probably interested in another question: Who is Farhad Manjoo? That's the question a Facebook page will answer.
Considering that the page is entirely under my control -- you make your Facebook page -- it's not a way to face the world, either. You know what they say about privacy in the digital era: You have none. If that's really true, you may as well get on Facebook and take charge of your info goes out.