June 26, 2012
Facebook Shakes Friendshake
Enid Burns for redOrbit.com
It has all the makings of a good pop song about rollercoaster romance. On Monday, Facebook offers Friendshake to help users find their friends. And on Tuesday, the friendship is over. The lyrics for how the week will play out still need to be written, but with the social network it's hard to tell whether this will be about an angst-driven love affair, or a one-hit wonder that never was.Facebook pulled Friendshake, or "Find Friends Nearby" feature a day after it was posted on the Facebook page as an app. CNN reported that the feature was never official, but only a test.
“This wasn't a formal release -- this was something that a few engineers were testing," the spokesperson told CNN in an email. "With all tests, some get released as full products, others don't. Nothing more to say on this for now -- we'll communicate to everyone when there is something to say."
It is fairly common for Facebook to make some features available to a small audience while testing. In May the social network seeded a test for a paid "Highlight" feature. That offering was only available in New Zealand, where Facebook could observe how it was adopted and make tweaks to the feature without too many users being affected.
The Friendshake tool was intended to help new acquaintances connect, as well as keep existing friends together when at an event or in proximity to each other. Yet it can easily be seen as a little too invasive. Some reports have called it a "stalking app," and others on the web have voiced privacy concerns.
Perhaps the Friendshake feature wasn't pulled because of privacy concerns at all. While it's possible the feature is the outcome of Facebook's acquisition of Glancee, the feature replicates a little too closely a social networking app called FriendThem, reports VentureBeat's John Koetsier. FriendThem chief executive Charles Sankowich sent a statement to TheNextWeb. "I was amazed on Sunday to read that Facebook is blatantly stealing our idea with what they are calling, 'Find Friends Nearby.'"
Privacy is less of a concern with Friendshake than some might immediately assume from a location-aware feature. Users must explicitly opt in to the location service for each event they are attending. It's unclear whether a user can opt in to the location service at the office and then keep it active indefinitely. However it is known that users must go to the url fb.com/ffn (find friends nearby) and set parameters in order to be located by existing friends and acquaintances that can then friend a user.
The Friendshake or Find Friends Now app was pulled from Facebook by Tuesday morning. The URL says "Secure browsing is not supported. This application does not yet support secure browsing (HTTPS)." A button directs users to go to the Apps and Games Dashboard.
Friendshake may be a blip in Facebook's history, which includes other features such as social ads that were instituted and then pulled from the social network. It is possible that Facebook will further test the feature to a smaller group of individuals and then float it back out as an official feature. Several issues need to be addressed before that can happen. Those include clearing up any overlap with competing app developers, and addressing any privacy concerns users will have - even if it's an explicit opt-in feature such as Friendshake was originally yesterday.