January 19, 2013

On Facebook! To be or not to be?

The original Article was written by me on Social Samosa

So I found this question on Quora:

What are good reasons for not maintaining a Facebook presence?
I’m a big fan of Quora and love answering questions there. However, I decided to write this answer and put it up as a blog post for the benefit of those who aren’t on Quora as yet. So, here goes:
Fundamentally, it’s a very good question to ask yourself, and users have probably been asking themselves this question from time to time. There are many reasons why one chooses to be ‘off’ Facebook and extensively declare a war against maintaining a ‘social presence on the web’… The ones I can list are:
  1. Because my family is on Facebook and I don’t want to share content with them.
  2. Because it’s not ‘safe’ considering the many security and safety violations.
  3. Because I am not your ‘social’ guy/girl and I don’t need to share what I eat, where I go, what I read with everyone.
  4. Because Facebook is the next Friendster is the next Orkut is the next MySpace is the next Hi5 is the next Yahoo Chat Room, so on and so forth… (Not in the particular order of evolution)
  5. Because I keep getting weird requests from people whom I barely know…
If you ask me, at the core of it, these are among the reasons why many should choose to stay off Facebook and maybe, just maybe… someday I will as well.
(This is me wearing the hat of a Social Media user borrowing insights from the Social Media Marketer in me…) 

1. Privacy According to Facebook’s Terms of Service

This is an age old fact, made stronger by the current release of ‘No more user voting required for Privacy changes policy.’ So we all knew, Facebook’s Terms Of Service clearly mention that they own your data (section 2.1) and if you don’t keep it up to date and accurate (section 4.6), they can terminate your account (section 14).
Okay, so this is helpful in determining fake profiles, marketers, spamsters etc. We get it, but the underlying message and its implications are quite beyond just that. Right?
If and when they choose, they can decide to become the ‘Big Brother’ themselves; the Black Suited Corporate head honchos that represented IBM back in the day. Remember the Apple ad by Steve Jobs? The one with a girl hurling the hammer at the screen? Yes, no matter if Mr. Mark Zuckerberg wears a hood to portray his cool quotient; he’s most definitely headed in that direction. See the pattern there?
One could say that our friend Mr. Mark Zuckerberg is just protecting Facebook’s interests and probably its users too, but look at it this way, What about how this practice is enforced and how are we looking at it in context of its other activities (Let’s say advertising services to begin with.) This argument is still quite weak isn’t it?
So if it were up to me as a user I won’t give them a benefit of the doubt, we all know that we are the product and not the customer. Right?
Despite the recent ‘show’ of encouraging users to vote on whether they should get the rights to vote on changes in terms of privacy, Facebook made it clear that they really didn’t give a damn about the feature in the first place.
That they didn’t promote enough for people to know in the first place was good enough to realize that. Now by doing this show of transparency, all they ended up doing was create confusion and chaos amongst users, so much so that people created a weird spread of Privacy Note hoaxes that they shared as status updates.
Such is the ignorance of ‘users’ / ‘customers’ which again reinstates my belief in the fact that we are the ‘product’ who keep getting tossed and turned in a pan to be served to advertisers as their favorite dish. Just another target demographic, a number and probably just another figure in their reports. What say?

2. It’s a ‘Time Sink’ for sure…

It’s certainly the ‘Black Hole‘. How many of you have heard people say that! It definitely is addictive. As read in Eric Reiss’s “Lean Startup”
“In 2004 three college sophomores arrived in the silicon valley with their fledgling college social network live on a handful of college campuses. It was not a market leading social network or even the first social network; other companies had launched better networks with more features.
With 150,000 registered users it made very little revenue. That summer it got $500,000 in venture capital and less than a year later they raised an additional 12.7 million dollars. Many things about it are remarkable. But I’d like to focus on only one.
How Facebook was able to raise so much money when it’s actual usage was so small.
By all accounts what impressed investors the most were two facts about FB’s early growth. The first fact was the raw amount of time Facebook’s active users spent on the time More than half of the users came back to the site every single day.
Cut to 2012, the growth and value hypotheses in general still holds true.
  • More than 1/7th of the world’s population use Facebook.
  • 1 in 5 minutes online are spent on Social Networking sites with Facebook leading the pack.
  • Facebook, now reaches 82% of the world’s internet-using population
  • 55% on Online world’s online population uses Facebook as of October 2012.
  • In India alone Facebook has a 83.4% reach with over 50.9 million visitors being online
With around a billion users spending that much time on this social networking site, you know now what it holds in store for future users, investors, advertisers now that it also has become public.
I mean if you want to, there are individually many other portals and many other tools as such that can be useful, knowledge gaining and most importantly something that won’t really dig you in and suck you in like Facebook does, to the core of blatant raw uselessness per se, except maybe some updates about your friends and some interesting brands or people you subscribe to.
So much so, that you start liking random ads by advertisers because you are so into it and are waiting for your news feed to refresh itself that you don’t want to leave the portal and you take a dig at these inbuilt features without having to go anywhere else and keep yourself engaged and occupied.
With the Facebook’s logout ads, that aspect and that bondage to users with their advertisers is so apparent that you’ll end up just liking that brand as it’s targeted to you without second thoughts even.
Another reason why I am more active nowadays on Quora; consume content off Twitter & even Google+. While Quora is as much as a time sink as Facebook, even more for me, it results in increasing my knowledge quotient and overall awareness of the world, much like what Wikipedia does.
Only sharing that I do is probably, some random travel related photos, stories, notes of some write-ups of mine or something to do with my brands that I work for. Again, want to reconsider this soon in the future as a user. But the marketer in me is the devil’s advocate vouching to post on Facebook, when it comes to that aspect… See what I’m trying to say?
Try going back to the original web for once… Many blogs, many portals and many other interesting communitiesout there will be twice as much as valuable as anything on Facebook.
Try podcasts, audio books, and various blogs of your area of interest niche or for fun. There are many such portals that you’ll find interesting. Funny memes that most of the times get shared are originally from there.
You see what I mean? With the Like button and social sharing integrated everywhere out there, we have all become hostages and as a user while as much as I’d like to refrain from it, I end up doing the same for the benefit of my Facebook friends! Sigh…

3. Users are just data points, (Read: Bait and Switch), Open Graph, this, that and more… 

While Facebook is telling developers how to access your data with new APIs, it is relatively quiet about explaining the implications of that to users. What this amounts to is a bait and switch. Facebook gets you to share information that you might not otherwise share and then they make it publicly available.
Since they are in the business of making money information about users for advertising purposes, this amounts to tricking their users into giving advertisers information about themselves. (Of course we all know that, and as marketers we argue that there are privacy settings, opt-out options and much more that Facebook allows for as an option) pretty much like reading the fine print in an agreement before buying a product. But of course, we know that as marketers, but many users won’t and hence the point in question.
Hence Facebook is much worse than Twitter in this aspect: Twitter has made only the simplest (and thus, more credible) privacy claims and their customers know up front that all their tweets are public. It’s also why the FTC is getting involved, and people are suing them (and winning). Sad story that…
Our data is most definitely shared with applications that we install which means now you’re not only trusting Facebook, but the application developers too, many of whom may not bother about keeping the data secure. (Not that you share credit card info or extremely sensitive information on Facebook, but still it might bother some users, and hence falls in the ‘reasons to quit Facebook.’ )
Essentially all data of yours must be effectively considered public, unless you simply never use any Facebook applications at all. Add OpenGraph API to it you are not just falling into hands of Facebook, but the Facebook ecosystem as a whole.
The ‘so-called’ Open Graph API is a clincher. Kudos to guys at Facebook for coming up with such an amazing name to actually disguise it’s closed nature. All of us marketers pitch in and make it easier than ever to help Facebook collect more data about users. Most consumers will have no clue that this data is essentially public.
To come full circle Facebook claim to own this data and are aiming to be the one source for accessing it. What an irony hah? And they call it ‘open graph.’ From that front when it comes to the concept of making things proprietary, I’d respect Apple and Steve Jobs more, despite being the open source / open web guy that I am by nature. At least he is up front about it…
In this case you can’t use this feature unless you’re on Facebook. A truly open implementation would work with whichever social network / social web platform we chose. Similarly, they implement just enough of OpenID to claim they support it, while aggressively promoting a proprietary alternative, Facebook Connect.
No wonder Microsoft’s Bill Gates was one of the early investors in Facebook. Microsoft supports the Linux community! (See the pattern?)
While a lot of these things I’ve mentioned in the blog have been written as a user of Facebook I know and I haven’t taken many efforts to actually think beyond just being a mere user, up until now… Most of us already know these facts and have stated it I’m sure, it’s just a reiteration of it was something I wanted to pen down in my thoughts.
Do read my personal disclaimer note at the end of the blog before coming to conclusions about the entire article to get an understanding of the perspective of why I wrote this article!
Do let me know what your views are and I’d be happy to hear from you especially if your thoughts contradict mine?
Personal Disclaimer Note:
I’m in the business of Social Media. I advocate and evangelize use of Social Web freely and strongly oppose the curb of freedom of the use of these or any other form / medium of expression.
Being a Social Media Marketer per se I understand the nuances of how some of these very reasons could be beneficial to us marketers. I’m sure this blog post wouldn’t do any disservice as such to Facebook or to my fellow marketers and I know for sure that not many users will end up quitting Facebook after reading my blog. ;)
So the reasons I have stated are that of a user of Facebook than a marketer (but obvious). At the same time, being a marketer I’ve learnt it’s imperative for brands and agencies to realize that ‘Customers aren’t merely products’ they are your real friends who’ll eventually make it or beak it for your brand.
So don’t give them truthiness and give them the truth instead. I’m an open web guy as well in general, and don’t mind sharing my personal work in various social networks such as Facebook, as long as it helps the community and users all over.
In essence, I believe that I’m a user first and a marketer later! This blog post is of a fundamental level and my personal opinion as well as a quest to answer some questions I’ve pondered upon in my journey in this field so far. It doesn’t endorse views of my current company or this blog portal.

Srinivas has been a communications professional for over 10 years, and has been blogging since 2005. He has worked with the likes of Social Wavelength, now Mirum India, (A JWT Group Company) for four years and now Heads Learning and Development & Analytics at Social Kinnect: A Digital Marketing Agency in Mumbai. His passion for Advertising, Creativity, Social & Digital Marketing helps make a difference for the brands they work with. 

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