After the ill-fated “facemash” debacle—where, for a few short-lived hours, students perused their peers’ often-unbecoming likenesses online—it seemed that Harvard students’ hopes of a campus-wide, electronic facebook had been dashed. As we all remember, the site was quickly quashed at the behest of students who contested the site’s more unsavory nature of prompting students to rate their peers’ attractiveness without their permission. But, if not for pesky privacy issues, the site’s 450 visitors and 22,000 photo-views before being shut down are clear indicators that a campus-wide facebook is in order. Now, thanks to the combined efforts of Harvard Arts and Sciences Computing Services (HASCS) and the Undergraduate Council, it looks like students might soon enjoy a similar central database—minus facemash’s more seedy competitive and judgmental features.
The potential benefits of a comprehensive, campus-wide online facebook are plenty. A centralized facebook that includes the entire Harvard community—that is, undergraduates, faculty, workers and all other administrators and staff—would allow easy access to the names of people that we all interact with daily. And, by permitting all PIN-holding members to access the facebook, no longer will students have to bear the frustration of being rejected from several Houses’ closed online facebooks. Whether one is simply scoping an elusive classmate, or curious of a friend’s first-year registration day photo—we all know the lure of that peculiar form of entertainment—a campus-wide facebook will facilitate the Harvard community with the names and basics of their peers, without worry of opening the site to unsolicited strangers.
As is seen with several of the current online House facebooks, a series of searchable features prove helpful when seeking out a particular student. For instance, Winthrop House—which, unfortunately, only allows in-House access—uses such search fields as “Concentration,” “Birthday Month,” and “Home State” to streamline the search function. The campus-wide facebook should be modeled in a similar fashion—perhaps also including a student’s registered courses and some optional pieces of personal information to allow for more effective searches.
But, as was witnessed with the failing of facemash, students demur at the prospect of losing their right of privacy. As the College plans to give students the choice of opting out of the facebook, it would be ideal if students could choose from varying degrees of inclusion. For privacy issues, some might wish to have their picture and personal information available to only a portion of the community—perhaps only those in their House or class—a request that is easy enough to accommodate with reasonable coding.
Thanks to a little bit of ingenuity and lot of illicit hacking, a Harvard sophomore was able to obtain a great majority of the campus’ photos and compile them on one navigable site. This was an invasion of privacy, and HASCS must insure that its facebook is secure. But it is clear that the technology needed to create a centralized website is readily available; the benefits are many. It is great that HASCS and the council are taking steps to realize this much anticipated community-building resource.