Cyber Network Causes New Worries

Seeking growth, Facebook.com to open to anyone online

You have been poked by...that random guy on the street?

Starting in the next few weeks, Facebook.com will open its digital doors to anyone who joins a regional or city network.

The popular social networking site, once open just to Harvard students, continues to seek new ways to grow. After expanding to all North American colleges, it welcomed high students last September, and opened up to business affiliated networks in May.

Unlike MySpace, the most trafficked networking site on the Internet, according to comScore Media Metrix, Facebook’s more than 9.3 million users must register as members of a “network”: a college, high school, business, or, soon, a city.

Although Facebook gives its users extensive control over what sections of their profiles and photo albums are visible to others, the site’s core base of college users has generally reacted negatively to past expansions, often creating online groups to voice their disapproval.

While the ruckus typically dies down quickly as users adjust, this expansion comes on the heels of Facebook’s most controversial move to date, the launch of News Feeds, which provide minute-by-minute updates of one’s friends’ online actions, including profile updates and group memberships.

Just hours after the News Feeds went live, students began to create groups in protest, the largest of which now counts over 742,000 members.

Facebook founder and C.E.O. Mark E. Zuckerberg, formerly Class of 2006, apologized on his blog late last week for not soliciting enough input from users before adding the new features and added privacy options allowing users to opt out of News Feeds.

The expansion to 500 towns and cities was slated for yesterday, but Facebook decided to hold off. Spokeswoman Melanie Deitch said the company learned its lesson from the News Feed uprising.

“Last week, we learned we need to do a better job communicating on launches,” Deitch told Forbes.com on Monday. “We are going to think through how to better inform users, and we don’t want to risk expanded registration being a big issue on the heels of last week’s changes.”

—Staff writer Sam Teller can be reached at steller@fas.harvard.edu.