uProtect.it, but U Probably Shouldn’t

By August 18, 2011

Secrets, secrets are no fun. Secrets, secrets hurt someone.” uProtect.it, a side project of Reputation.com, is a Facebook plugin that lets you encrypt status updates, pictures and more, making them accessible only to certain people for a specific amount of time. It is the latest in a slew of attempts at preventing grandma, big brother and your boss from accessing the goofy Facebook content you only wish to share with college friends – and a fairly decent one at that – but it is also a potentially confusing and possibly insulting failure to address the social media segmentation issue that Lists and Circles have come up short on as well.

The process works something like this: Once you install the uProtect.it plugin and restart your browser, you can elect to use it whenever you desire an extra layer of privacy on Facebook. When in use, your posts will initially appear to your Facebook friends as only “Your Name made a protected post” followed by random garble like “fY21GJ1aQ 5fWe74qn”. (See example below) You individually select which of your friends to share the encrypted message with (the application unfortunately does not seem to work with pre-existing Friend Lists), and (1) if users also have the application installed AND (2) they are allowed by the poster to see the post, then it becomes readable. If they don’t have the app, they see a link that enables them to download it….again, if they were granted access in the first place.

I have three problems with this approach to sharing on social media. The first is that I am afraid my friends will think my Facebook account has been hacked by a virus when they see the strange message, and that they will not be inclined to take the risk of clicking through some untrustworthy-looking link. Second, whatever I am posting on Facebook probably isn’t valuable enough to justify the effort of my friends installing new applications just to access it.  And last, I don’t want to insult those on the naughty list by putting it in their face that I don’t want them seeing what I am posting…it’s slightly less subtle than the old “I locked down my profile for professional reasons” excuse.

My beef doesn’t end there. Two additional issues are that the now ubiquitous ‘invite others to uProtect.it’ viral marketing ploy is a bit too aggressive, and that the green uProtect.it header now hovering over my Facebook experience inhibits my chat function and photo album toggling. I haven’t been annoyed enough to delete the application though. It just kind of hangs there as a minor annoyance, like that newsletter you never read that you keep meaning to unsubscribe from, but never do.

As I rather ineloquently tried to get across in a previous post, the solution to social media fatigue is not more tools for segmenting generalized social networks. It is adopting niche social networks catering to your specific interests that allow you to share relevant content openly amongst peers (like Sharkzoo does for real estate…shameless plug). Facebook is for bragging about personal achievements, posting pictures of babies, pets and food, and the occasional rant about sports, politics or pop culture. Twitter is the same, but shorter, and both are proving fairly mediocre at building Klout for a corporate brand. G+ lived hard and died young. LinkedIn is a dynamic resume of professional accomplishments and interests. Meetup is actually pretty useful for finding others who share your interests and still appreciate face-to-face contact. Focus is great for business advice, and Spiceworks seems to be picking up steam with the IT pro crowd. There are plenty more I could Add, but the point is to find what fits you and share what’s relevant to that audience, not to restrict access to content posted for the masses.

Getting back to uProtect.it, I think it’s a clever marketing tool for Reputation.com to subtly champion its cause for protecting yourself online, and I admire their entrepreneurial moxy treating it as a separate in-house startup that grows virally by piggy-backing new user conversion on existing user’s updates. Separating their AppScan third-party Facebook application scoring mechanism seems wise too, although it appears to be a bit primitive (Skype was a major flag because of all the data they collect).

Both products are free, and maybe some people will find them useful. For me though, telling secrets in public is just bad manners.