The downfall of Facebook will be because they crossed a line of trust and implemented features/crossover that people didn’t want/weren’t expecting. They’ve already faced privacy issues, and as more people comment on how they’re shocked to see their personal information pop up on external sites, they’re going to be more and more concerned. The next “Facebook” will be about privacy, more responsive to the needs/desires of it’s users… Until it too becomes controlled by someone trying to find a way to monetize/exploit it, and then again something bigger and better will come along.
Lately, I haven’t been to a website that hasn’t encouraged me to “like” or “recommend” an article to my Facebook friends. “The Social Web” is the future, I agree, and media outlets, blogs, and even retailers are taking advantage, plastering their sites with buttons to help you share their message with your friends. And that’s well and good. If I’m reading something I think other people would like to read, I’m happy to share it. I like when someone posts a funny link or interesting news story, or comments on the new iPad or Palm that they just bought: more and more, we’re looking to our social networks for recommendations of what products to buy, what movies to see, and everything else. If I’m going to spend money, I want to make sure I’m getting value, and I trust my friends more than I trust commercials. Again, all is well.
That’s because the Social Web is something that should be controlled by consumers. It should be the end users who decide what they want to be able to do and what they want to share. Speaking as one of those end users, I want the trust between me and a social network to work on my terms. I’m sharing information (incredibly marketable information, at that!) and I don’t want the aggregator to have full control over who gets that information. It’s built into the relationship. Here’s how: On Twitter, it’s understood that whatever I write on my account can be viewed by everyone. I have the option to close my account and make it accessible only to those I authorize, but I understand what level of privacy I’m likely to see1. On Facebook, I have more options, but again, I’m the one who is supposed to decide what information I make public and what information I make private (even if Facebook has made weak attempts to try to convince me to be more open…). If the site I’m using is exploiting that trust to sell my information, we’ve got problems.
From the opposite of that perspective, that is, someone looking to reach new customers and develop commercial relationships on social media sites, I also think it’s a good idea. Innovation will always be pushed by developers. They may take cues from consumers, but as Mark Cuban points out,
Your customers can tell you the things that are broken and how they want to be made happen. Listen to them. Make them happy. But they won’t create the future roadmap for your product or service. That’s your job.
However, consumers will dictate the manner in which they use a site. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s understood how advertising works on Facebook — so much so that you can give feedback on the ads you see! (see image left)— and it clearly works. And it works because the users buy into it. Pup-up ads were among the first advertisements on the web, but they don’t work anymore because people rejected them. It was so bad that browsers sought to find ways to block them before the user even had a choice. As Internet advertising evolves, it’s getting smarter and smarter, with developers finding new ways to interact with consumers and form relationships. Viral ads on Youtube, interactive games and contests, and personalized ads tailored to reach a specific audience in a relevant forum are the way to go now, with consumers buying into the process. Users understand that ads are part of the game, so why not create ads that enhance it, not distract from it? With most web publishing in the hands of consumers now, they make the rules. But they’re rules that advertisers can live within and benefit from.
So what does that have to do with Facebook failing? It’s because Facebook has tried to go over the top of this relationship and exploit it. Every time Facebook breaks down a privacy barrier, users become more and more uncomfortable. The most recent change has been to link every bit of personal information on a profile to a Facebook- or corporate-created Page that users now “like.” It used to be that you could click on a band’s name under the “favorite music” section and you’d be taken to a list of your friends with the same interest. It was a brilliant way to find commonalities among friends or associates you didn’t know too well. Now, that element of social networking is gone, an omission I think is counter to the goals of a social networking site. It’s been replaced by a thinly veiled attempt to sell me to the band or film or restaurant I’m looking at. Facebook has stopped developing our relationship and has taken it in their own direction.
Now, with almost a half-billion users, Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But somebody will come along eventually, somebody who understands the concerns of Facebook users, and they’ll create something that better suits the needs and wishes of those users..
- Now, with almost a half-billion users, Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But somebody will come along eventually, somebody who understands the concerns of Facebook users, and they’ll create something that better suits the needs and wishes of those users..
1 This is evident by the fact that the content of Twitter’s 10 billionth tweet isn’t available, as it was posted by someone with a blocked account. More at mashable.com. ↩