Last night I walked a friend through the process of setting up a Facebook page for herself and her daughter.  Since I’ve been using the site for a number of years, this role gave me an opportunity to view the process from the perspective of someone encountering Facebook for the first time. It’s a mixed bag, and Facebook should rethink its approach — from the user’s perspective. Five brief observations:

1.  The initial pages of the sign-up process make it very difficult for the new user to merely test the waters.  For instance, on either the first or second screen of sign-up, users are asked to search their email address books to link up with other “friends.” One can decline, but the new user may not understand the implications of this step. Aren’t such connections the point, you ask?  Yes, and no.  Facebook is all about connection, but a new user should be permitted to ease into the program.

2. Facebook requires that everyone who signs up agree to have their name, profile picture, and gender available for search.  I don’t like that, and neither did my friend. She worried about people she did not want to connect searching for her.  She worried about her daughter’s picture being on the web.  These are legitimate concerns.  Facebook should permit people to decline to be “registered” for search, or at least to decline to have their profile pictures shared.

3.  The suggested privacy settings are too broad.  Facebook suggests as a default that certain information be available to “everyone,” rather than “friends of friends” or (most restricted) “friends only.”  A user may ultimately agree with these default recommendations, but she is told that these are the “recommended” settings before the user knows the full implications of “everyone.”  She may think that “everyone” means “everyone I later say can see the information.”  Facebook means everyone.  There is a simple solution:  Facebook should default on all privacy settings to “friends only.”  The new user should, by default, share information only with those with whom she acknowledges a relationship.  If Facebook believes that greater “sharing” is within users’ (or the company’s) interests, the company should explain why, with clear examples of both the benefits and costs of sharing.

4.  In the end, did I recommend that my friend sign up?  Yes.  As I have repeatedly written, Facebook is a powerful tool for connection.  There’s bitter there, but there is plenty of sweet. I understand that Facebook is a profit-seeking business, and I understand that users receive value (in connectedness) for the privacy they surrender.

5.  Still, I continue to maintain that Facebook should take additional steps now to place itself on the user’s side of the privacy question.  Trust online is a precious resource.  Trust requires consistency, and Facebook has not demonstrated consistent commitment to its members.  Great companies take a better approach.  Facebook could create users who are evangelists.  Instead, they seem to be growing a base of users who feel they can’t fully trust the platform.