You and I have been companions since 2007. Thanks to you, I’ve enjoyed many great moments as a simple user as well as an artist manager making the most of what you offer for my artists. But you’ve also long been getting on my nerves with your ever-changing privacy policies. You’ve been making it increasingly difficult for anyone to keep track of the best way to maintain their settings private, or at least equivalent to what they were when they first signed up to your platform in its early stages.
In the past, you went to great lengths to communicate on how important you valued your users and their concerns on privacy. The problem is: you’ve broken your word and gone and done the exact opposite so many times.
I’m tired of listening to you.
Especially since your recent and sudden decision to force people out of anonymity, and go the Google route by hiding behind your “mission to make the world more open and connected” excuse. Finding no better than to ask your users to denounce their own friends dissolves any conscience dilemma: it’s just plain unacceptable.
If you really valued people’s freedom and privacy, the idea of chasing up all pseudonyms on the network would never have crossed your mind.
If you really valued people’s right to have a choice, you would’ve never had the arrogance and impoliteness to default your billions of users emails to a default facebook.com address without even 1/. asking for their permission and 2/. informing them. Except this time, you also consciously forgot to apologise in some bland PR statement in the face of the outrage.
Maybe you are reading this and thinking I am a little naive. Very probably. And let’s hand it over to you: you’ve never hidden your ultimate goal was to monetise your service. By the looks of how you and your financial partners handled your IPO, you seem to have been very desperate about that indeed.
You would probably also say that users should know better: nothing ever comes for free. Indeed: you have forced noone. In fact, your users are only prisoners of their own device.
But are your users realistically supposed to keep up-to-date with the full intricacies all your updates imply for them in terms of privacy or is this just about you being legally “covered”? You are forcing them into global partnership policies through your Open Graph and ‘opt-in-once-and-for-all’ approach. You have stopped bothering about their concerns or even talking to them.
Maybe there won’t be a revolution. In the meantime, maybe you’ll even win your trial against Max Schrems, the Austrian law student behind Europe v. Facebook. And maybe all the cash you have available on the back of your current valuation will allow you to pay hundreds of very talented lobbyists to soften the European Commission and US members of Congress. Maybe, baby. But only for so long.
Sending the message that you couldn’t care less for your users concerns now you have enough of their data, while being stingy about sharing it with them (the very people who put you in the leading position you are in) but generous with those cash-cows who covet it, will land you between a rock and a hard place.
Your main focus is not on providing a great service to users anymore. You’re all about reducing their flexibility to better monetise them. You are talking over their heads to businesses. Sounds like a plan.
But beware Facebook: you are on the dangerous path of increasing rigidification. Pre-mortem? You’ve entered the danger zone because this is also true from a purely business point of view.
You used to be the place where anyone (businesses, brands, artists) could go and create an page and easily communicate to fans for free with the guarantee that if they got their content strategy and post timing right, the most relevant pages and posts would emerge through the clutter and gain them visibility. This as an artist manager was invaluable. It made you an incredible tool and asset to help any developing artist get the word out and find his or her fans worldwide. This is essentially what has kept me so loyal and consistent in my use of Facebook.
Today, this has dramatically changed: you have forced all pages to go from Tabs to Timeline, cut out all the apps that made it interesting for a page owner to have fans land on. Page owners can’t invite their fans to an event created via the page, meaning they must either have multiple admins for a page who will all invite the friends from their own profiles or cumulate both an fan page and a profile. You still can’t change a page name if you have more than 200 likes, so if a name change occurs for artistic or legal reasons, page owners have to start again from scratch. You have become a total control-freak and made things more complicated while offering little or no gain of added value for the page owner. I experience it every day.
And now, because your ad revenue is slowing down, you are all the more desperate for monetisation, so you recently made yet another sneaky policy change, forcing every single fan page owner to flood user’s timelines with the following message: “Due to Facebook’s new ‘pay to promote posts’ policy, only about 10% of people that ‘like’ a fan page will see the status updates. In order to see our posts and notifications, just click/hover over the ‘Liked’ button (beneath the cover photo, to the right) and activate the “show in news feed’ option. This will allow you to see all of our posts. Please share this message wherever you can on Facebook!”. You can be sure no user will bother taking hours of his or her time to do this for each of the hundreds of fan pages they like. How convenient for you.
To be clear: if artists, content creators or brands aren’t willing to regularly fork out money to buy your ads and promote their own posts, then you have neither time or love for them either. Above all, you are fast implementing a two-level system: those who pay most will get their content exposed most vs. those who don’t will dwindle into oblivion. Your business logic is in frontal contradiction with your self-proclaimed “mission to make the world more open and connected”.
But let’s push the business logic a little further and look into the future. Let’s say the penniless have understood the message and stop posting anything relevant. Your cash cows win the visibility battle and all posts in your users’ newsfeed are now exclusively sponsored posts. Since your client targeting isn’t as good as Google’s, there is a great probability these ads aren’t even 100% of interest or relevance to them. Some high profile people have already started to notice just that.
But let’s just imagine for a minute that they are all your ads are relevant: please explain to me why on earth any user in his or her right mind would find an interest in logging on to Facebook to simply expose themselves to a torrent of ads? They can go to Groupon for that. And they’ll get better deals. And if they get spammed, it doesn’t matter, they only gave away an email address, nothing more about themselves.
You crushed Myspace. Congratulations. It probably wasn’t your initial goal, but regardless, Myspace was one of your collateral damages. Myspace fell into some of the same traps you are falling into today: arrogance of the game-leader, lack of gratefulness towards your users, exclusive focus on advertising revenue, increasing restrictions on the tools and apps that made the user experience so valuable.
But if you lose the trust of the huge mass of users, they will either start posting less or leave you altogether. This means the accuracy of the data you sell advertisers will fade out: you will lose their interest because the value delivered to them as business partners will decline. When this happens, your own company value will crash. And then what will you be left with?
Hence, my main question for you today: how will you monetise an empty world? Once you realise you have gone too far, what will your plan be to reconquer your users and advertisers, their assiduity and their trust in your platform that you are losing? Please tell me: I am so very curious to see you nail it. Not because I like you. I really don’t anymore. But I’ve always had a feeble for lost causes.
Paris, August 6, 2012