Word arrived today that one of the new features in the upcoming Xbox 360 Dashboard update will be that of a social-networking ability wherein people will be allowed to browse other gamers' Friends lists. For those unfamilliar with how Xbox Live works, everyone has a Friends list much like a buddy list on AIM and when I'm online I can quickly see which of my Friends are on, what games they're playing, and even chat with them and compare Achievements.
At first glance, I thought this feature might be kind of nice, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that this is a stalker-feature in the making. Half of the people on my Friends list are people I know in real life, either through work or by real-world friendship. The other half are people who I've played with a couple times and/or people who simply sent me a Friend Request to which I said yes. While I have nothing against the people in this latter group, what do I stand to gain by allowing them access to the Gamertags of folks I work with? I wouldn't just give out a friend or co-workers phone number to a casual acquaintance, why would I give out their Gamertag. In 2007 they're one and the same.
Microsoft is going to allow people to select from different levels of privacy for this feature and, depending on the gamer's age, Microsoft will even step in and set certain levels automatically -- no Friends list browsing of children, for example. Beyond that, I am guessing that it won't take long before everyone who works in the gaming industry turns off this feature. I know I will. I have no problem fielding the occasional industry-related question while I'm gaming -- if I did, I wouldn't link to my Gamertag on this blog -- but I am certainly not going to subject my editors and other industry contacts on my Friends list to the risk of being incessantly cold-called about a job or harrassed in other ways.
Hopefully Microsoft doesn't advance this networking concept any further than what they already have planned, as this could quickly devolve into a Kevin Bacon scenario. Although I think the Halo crowd would write that as K3V1N B8CPWN. I don't l337-speak so I could be wrong on that pronunciation. And if I am, I'm glad.
Nevertheless, we know the December update will make it possible to download and play original Xbox games and we know it will make it possible to stalk your Friends' Friends. These are definitely features I wouldn't have expected. Now let's just hope some of the yet-to-be-announced features prove a bit more useful on an everyday basis.