Jason Calacanis does a marvelous job of summing up the Facebook vs. User Data scenario in this post. His description of what Facebook’s intentions: collect and republish data on a level never seen before, allow advertisers to use this to reach users on an extremely targeted level, and let the protests begin: don’t give users access back to their information in open formats (so I can get my friends list, which is mine, and which I own, as contacts on Outlook for example.)
But what stops a company from taking a simple, altruistic action that will move the world forward, that will benefit its own community: the one, the very one which got it to its $15 billion? Is it the same Microsoft 90s’ we own all, monopoly is ours spirit making its way back to the 21st century — what has so far been a decade of openness? Is it because they’ll make less money, or because they feel threatened that users will move away from them? And these questions, of course, lead to a really important one: how can we trust a company that won’t give us an Export function, to lead our lives, to not screw us with their Platform, and to not misuse the masses of information we’re giving to them?
The User Dilemma
As the famous saying goes, beggers can’t be choosers. A Facebook user who has grown up with the service, loves what it has done to his life in connecting him with the people around him has not a lot of options other than to beg. Let’s admit it, we’ve used the product for two years, grown and outgrown our friends lists, and when time comes that the obvious is pointed out to us — the fact that we could be doing so much more with the masses of data we’ve inputted in Facebook outside of Facebook — we’re powerless.
All we can do is beg for our data, continue to use the service, and hope that Mark Zuckerberg hears and takes action. But anyone that has heard him speak knows that the kid’s a monopolist. And with so much ex-Microsoft and ex-Google talent behind him, you can guess the cultures must be very similar, if not the same. That means no data for us, for a while at least. And here’s why.
The Facebook Dilemma
As a social networking monopolist, there are two ways you could go with this situation. You could do what they’re doing now and what any true monopolist would do: don’t give users a door, and they won’t go out. Or put otherwise, what happens in Facebook, stays in Facebook. They’ll probably continue to dominate this way, and they’ll see great benefits in having control of their data, their restraints, and their users. In the long-term, however, such a solution doesn’t work. It’s exactly how Microsoft ceases to be truly relevant on the Internet, how DRM is actually causing piracy rates to increase, and why the backlash on Apple will grow if they don’t do something about it.
A more forward thinking way of looking at the situation, however, is to act openly and share all. It’s a fairly new way of doing things, is yet to be tried and tested truly successfully, but I think will have greater benefits than any other method. Give users their data, have little orange RSS icons everywhere, let their Outlook contacts list be their Facebook friends, let their mini-feed be embedded on their blogs. Be a part, instead of trying to own, their life and their technological experience. Be the good guy. In the short-term, this solution sounds alien and unlikely to any monopolist. Why let users own their data when you can own them? Why risk losing 10% market share? What do I get out of it? But in the long-term, I think the way users are becoming more aware of what is surrounding them, it is where the world is heading. And if you don’t follow, you’ll be old news tomorrow.
Data Hogs Get Slaughtered?
Calacanis has a statement in his post which pretty much sums up, I think, why Facebook will need to reiterate their strategy: if you’re a hog you’ll be slaughtered. In the world of natural selection we live in, Facebook will have to choose whether to be the hog or the friendly next door neighbor.
To Facebook: give in, or get slaughtered.