Going Private

Going Private

I had been planning to change the Jamie Samoyed page on Facebook from public to private today, and I had started putting together this post together to answer a few questions that came up about the details of the change. But after spending a few hours researching the details, I've decided the "private Page" approach isn't for us. So the change is on hold while I get things organized for a different approach as outlined below.

A bit of history

The Jamie Samoyed page on Facebook has been around since early May of 2010. At first, it was just a way for me to share photos of Jamie with a small number of friends and family. During the summer of 2010, the page had a few dozen followers, and I got in the habit of posting photos every day.

Then on October 6, 2010, Facebook introduced a new feature called Groups. I didn't notice the new Groups feature at the time, in part because of an interesting coincidence of timing that made Jamie's page grow much larger that month.

The day after the Groups feature was rolled out, on Thursday, October 7, 2010, I got up early and took Jamie for a walk at Seward Park, then got ready for work. As I was getting ready to leave for work, I took some cute photos of Jamie trying to get our cat Fish to play with him, which I posted on Facebook and Flickr.

I went to work, and by the time I got home that evening Jamie's page had a bunch of new followers and the Flickr post was already my most-viewed photo ever. Jamie's "boop" photo quickly became a viral phenomenon, and few months later a TinEye reverse image search showed that this photo was on over 80,000 different web pages.

The photo that started the explosive growth of Jamie's page in 2010.

I was busy keeping up with that crazy situation for the next couple of weeks. At first I tried to file DMCA takedown notices for sites that were using my photo (some being so bold as to put their own copyright on it), but eventually there were so many of them that I just gave up.

Then, later that same month on 10/24/2010, Alice joined our pack. And her cute puppy photos made Jamie's follower count grow even faster!

Due to all of the above, by the time I learned about the Groups feature – which looked like a better fit for us than the business-oriented Pages feature we were using – Jamie's page had thousands of followers and shutting it down to start over with a Group didn't seem worth it at the time.

In the years since then, Facebook has made the Page feature even more business-oriented, with lots of features we'll never need or use: analytics, ads, etc. A recent example: starting last fall, I now get nagged about whether I'd like to add a "call us" button whenever I post a photo of the dogs. Uh, no thanks.

Scammers and spammers

Technology-based scams have become rampant around the world in recent years, and Facebook is one of the most popular places to play those sorts of games because there are so many potential victims there.

In the early days of Jamie's page, I would occasionally see somebody post the same comment multiple times, usually to sell something random like sunglasses. So I'd block them. It didn't happen very often, so it was easy to control.

But those spammers have gotten more sophisticated and more aggressive in recent years, especially the last few months. Since dogs in general and Samoyeds specifically is what the Jamie Samoyed page is all about, we get lots of spammers promoting puppy mills, especially Samoyed puppy mills.

I've seen situations where a post has 20 comments from our actual friends, and then I come back a little later and that post has 40 comments, because a spammer has replied to every single comment with the same blurb about joining their Group. It's great that so many of our page's followers have been helping to block these jerks (THANK YOU for helping!), but it's a waste of time for all of us, and interferes with our ability to have a conversation or just have fun.

Something needs to change.

Issues and options

I had though that we could just change the page to "private" and require approval for new members, and then I'd have the tools to manage the spammers more easily. But it turns out that won't actually work very well, because the Pages feature is intended for businesses. So the premise is that anyone should be able to see what you're selling, whereas only your most active participants ("Top Fans" in Facebook jargon) can comment. But Facebook automatically determines who your page's top fans are, based on some algorithm that's undocumented, as far as I can tell. And they've not given the Top Fan designation to many of the Jamie Samoyed page's most active and enjoyable commenters, so those people wouldn't be able to comment if we moved to a private Page.

The core problem here is that the Jamie Samoyed page should be a Group, not a Page. (If you're curious about differences, here's a good overview of Groups versus Pages.) So that's what we're going to do: create a new Group, then let everyone on the existing Page know where it is and how to join it.

There will be two messy issues involved in this change. First, everyone will have to re-join the new Group. And second, it will no longer be possible to search all of the history of Jamie's page in one place. We'll leave the existing Page active (with a final post directing people to the new Group), so you'll be able to go there to search old content, and for new content you can search on the new Group we're creating.

Those are clumsy details, but we'll work around them. And I've learned of a few things that we'll get in moving to a Group, the most exciting one being better spam detection and moderation tools for the site administrator (me). We'll also be able to set it up to allow any member to approve member requests from their Facebook friends, so that they don't need to wait for me to approve a member request for those people they already know.

So that's the plan: we're moving to an all-new Group. I'm going to take the time to get it all set up properly, and will also write up simple instructions for everyone who wants to participate in the new Group. That will take some time, and there are some other things we need to work around this month, so the change will probably take place in early February.

Thank you!

Thanks to everyone has participated in our posts on the Jamie Samoyed page! We're going to make this transition in a way that allows you to keep participating with as little hassle as possible, and since we're going to be creating an all-new Group to do so, we're going to add some fun new things as well "while we're at it." Stay tuned, and I hope to see you in the new group soon!