What does Facebook want to be when it grows up?
Facebook. It's hot. It's become one of the most popular social networking sites mere months after opening up to the masses. It's cozying up to, and getting tons of cash from the big boys.
But what does it want to be when it grows up?
Some of its recent actions suggest that it's a little confused.
If it wants to stay the adult equivalent of the college facebook, then I guess it makes sense to have a terms of service that requires that people use real first and last names on their accounts, a security measure that has its roots in Facebook's beginnings. And to boot off people using pseudonyms. But then it won't really be an inclusive social networking site, will it? Lots of "people" who would join, and bring their rich social interactions, will find someplace else to (net)work and play.
If it wants to enforce its own definition of obscenity on the entire community, in direct contradiction to US law, by banning photos of a legal act, breastfeeding, while allowing things like pro-anorexia groups, the company certainly has the right. It's not smart to alienate current and future customers, but it is their playground,so they can set the rules. They have every right to define obscenity as something that would make a 16 year old boy uncomfortable... in a bad way. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Don't get me wrong, I like Facebook. It has tremendous potential as a social networking platform. But even as its valuation rises, it seems to be making short-sighted business decisions that will ultimately affect its future growth.
Personally I like the fact that I know my friends on Facebook are real, live people. I'm not likely to befriend an avatar. And I'm not a big fan of anonymous blogging. However, I do engage in other networks like Twitter with folks using pseudonyms. Sometimes I know their name "in real life" and sometimes I don't. And I don't care. Wouldn't the smarter decision be to allow pseudonyms, but require that it be acknowledged in the profile? Transparency. You have the right to know that Jon Swift is a pseudonym before you friend him, but it is ridiculous to require his real name. His online friends don't require it. Why should Facebook?
And the obscenity thing. The legal definition of obscenity is complex (and by the way, doesn't even apply to breastfeeding in public which is legal in all 50 US States.) In the US, we rely on the Miller test. Facebook on the other hand appears to be applying the frat boy test. Or something. Truly, they have to straighten this out. Either Facebook supports free speech or it doesn't. And "doesn't" is a really bad business decision which doesn't have to be made explicitly. Inconsistent application of community standards accomplishes the same thing.
It's time for Facebook to grow up. Think about the long term implications of its actions. Understand that the seemingly trivial issues of breastfeeding moms and anonymous avatars are fundamental business decisions that ultimately will affect its ability to become the preferred public social networking platform.
UPDATE: The Facebook account of political humourist "Jon Swift" has been restored.
UPDATE 11/2: In this corner Microsoft and Facebook. And in this corner Google and everyone else. Ding Ding. Yesterday the Internet was abuzz with the Google OpenSocial announcement, and today the kids at Facebook are looking at a whole new world. They still have the users and a very powerful Big Brother in Redmond. But they can't afford to keep making stupid mistakes. Because it seems we have a viable alternative.
Tags: Facebook, Jon Swift, Facebook bans
Posted @ 12:11PM in Blogging, Politics/Policy, Social networks
Susan, each day Facebook seems to become more and more unfavorable to me. I joined the network about three years ago and since then it has undergone significant changes, most noticeably in it's struture and security. I agree with you in the sense that it has gotten a little out of hand when it comes to some of the content found on the site. With all the new applications that have been and continued to be added, profiles are becoming too overwhelming with clutter generated by these recent additions. I hope Mark Zuckerberg comes to the realzation that he is hurting the site and fixes it before people decide they've had enough.
What a great point you have here. I have been asking myself the same questions. When Facebook first started, I remember only the students at certain schools could register. Then, it slowly became a social network for all colleges. Then, high schools. Then, businesses. And now people can register under "no network."
Now, when the trend first began, I never thought having a facebook account could threaten your chances of getting a job (of course only if there is inappropriate things on your profile). But now businesses are using it as a social network? What? Sometimes I look at Facebook and think it is so juvenile, but then I see it as being the #1 social networking tool.
I completely agree with your arguement. Really, what will become of this whole Facebook trend? It will be interesting to see.
Great post! I agree with you. Although I fall guilty of being a member of this community I often question its purpose. Facebook orginially began as social network amongst colleges, it then reached out to high schools, and soon after became available to all networks.
The power of Facebook is scary. It has become one on the most widely used social network tools. I think that while trying to appeal to all these markets it has become a mess. The potential of this social network could be outstanding if it could become more appropriate and professional. It will be interesting to see where which direction it takes over the next year.
I find myself a little conflicted. I agree that Facebook has put itself in an unfavorable position. By reaching out to networks beyond the average college student Facebook put itself in the line of fire of much more criticism. Facebook started as a social media tool that was targeted towards college students. If it wants to broaden its target audiences then Facebook must grow up with its new audience. When it comes to obscenity, a college "frat boy" will be less offended by something than a working mother with two children. I guess I am agreeing with your point, in a very roundabout way. If Facebook is striving to attract older users, then it too must grow up.
Ah Facebook! Where do I start. Well I've actually deleted my account a couple of times but restored it when I realized I would loose contact with a lot of key people. Which is the real reason I have facebook to keep in contact with those long lost friends and family. Facebook today aggrevates me. It's doing to much and looks more high schoolish everyday. If it was invented for social networking it should stick to that. Don't get me wrong Facebook has a lot of promising attributes but giving you your horoscopes or finding your crush is a bit much.
I agree that Facebook has gone a bit overboard with all the new applications...bumper stickers, graffiti walls, and various other displays for your profile. With all the new clutter Facebook has adopted, it could take you a good hour to read some people's entire profile. I think Facebook needs to grow up and get away from the juvenile traits of the site and just get back to the basics. I believe all the clutter and extravagance is making Facebook more irritating to many of its users. It is a great social media network that could be improved if it could strip away some of the fluff.
hey I agree with some of the other commentators here about Facebook's growing unpopularity. Atleast in Europe, Facebook was never a big buzz apart frm LOndon. We have our Myspace and Asia has Google's Orkut. I am begining to think that Facebook is nearing its decline as the primal motive f raising enough cash has been achieved by its founder.bEing so young and a geek he lacks vision to be able to plan Facebok's next five years. Wht you say?
I'm glad that they boot fake names off Facebook. The report abuse tool they have has saved me from online stalking and harrassment by a crazy person I used to be friends with. I was being followed and harrassed on Facebook until I figured out what was going on. My stalker was creating multiple accounts under fake names. My ex friend would block and then unblock me so she could see me but I couldn't see her. That meant I wasn't able to block her. You can ask Facebook to block someone for you if they don't show up in a search but you can't do that unless you know the person's full name, their network and their email address. My ex friend was using multiple alias, multiple emails and I had no way of knowing who she was until I was attacked by her sending me spiteful and threatening emails. Facebook got rid of my stalker, helped me to set up my privacy so I can't be harrassed again and thus relieved my anxiety. Having someone stalk and harrass you online is frightening when you know the person doing it is insane