Tiffany B. Brown

“Facebook Follies” and what might an open social network format look like?

UPDATE 3: danah boyd wonder why Facebook is all the rage among tech nerds

UPDATE 2: Some heavy hitters in the social networking space have drafted a A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web, and founded a site devoted to the Open Social Web.

UPDATE: From a comment by Baratunde on his blog: Why I deactivated my Facebook account on Eloquation, and (duh! Don’t know how I missed this) the Social Network Portability page on the Microformats wiki.

Baratunde writes a post on how he uses Facebook. There’s a lot of interesting stuff on the site’s super-secret policies with regards to marketing, and the limits / dangers of using social network sites. Baratunde also talks about the difficulty of reaching and marketing to fans who are too lazy, naïve, and/or overwhelmed by information and social networks to follow anyone who isn’t on Facebook or MySpace.

This is all very troubling. I invested a lot into Facebook, but I’ve discovered, painfully, that Facebook doesn’t value me nearly as much as I’d hoped. I took one of my most important assets, my relationship with my fans, and allowed Facebook to mediate a large portion of it. Sure, I still have my email list and blog subscribers and my pedophiliac MySpace friends, but the loss of access to my Facebook group will be felt. Facebook users are still largely college folks, and that’s one of the few groups that will actually pay me to perform.

Also read Baratunde’s previous post My beef with Facebook: so much untapped possibility.

Chalk me up as one person who doesn’t ‘get’ Facebook, or how it’s so “different” from other social networking sites, API and elitist history / user base aside.

But Baratunde’s post makes me wonder about the possibility of an open standard for describing your relationships on various social sites. What if social networking as a function became a commodity, allowing you to import and export your friends and profiles, say through XFN and hCard? How would they or could they then differentiate themselves? (Dopplr.com, which is in an invite-only beta mode, allows imports of XFN and hCard data).

Would users be more loyal to a site that allowed them to keep control over their own data? Would MySpace still be popular because of sheer inertia, or would the ability to pick up and move make people leave in droves?

Related (though perhaps only if you expand the definition of “related”):

12 Responses to ““Facebook Follies” and what might an open social network format look like?”

  1. Jason says:

    I’m finding this scenario a bit fascinating. There’s an interesting concept going on here – an individual saying “I want to use a tool because that’s where the people are.” vs. a business saying “I don’t want our tools used this way.” The business has invested money and resources. The individual has invested content and data. But, in the end, I think it is the businesses responsibility to define their success metrics and terms of use and be responsible to those two things particularly if they care about overall user experience.

    I’m going to think a lot more about this.

  2. Jason says:

    I’m finding this scenario a bit fascinating. There’s an interesting concept going on here – an individual saying “I want to use a tool because that’s where the people are.” vs. a business saying “I don’t want our tools used this way.” The business has invested money and resources. The individual has invested content and data. But, in the end, I think it is the businesses responsibility to define their success metrics and terms of use and be responsible to those two things particularly if they care about overall user experience.

    I’m going to think a lot more about this.

  3. I think if sites like Facebook and MySpace remain closed they will eventually go the way of AOL, MSN, and Compuserve. At the end of the day, the whole point of the web is social networking, all that these sites have done is put an easy to use interface on top of it.

    As standards develop and APIs / Libraries pop up around them, the open alternatives will flourish, and just like other proprietary cash cows, the inevitable coming of their inability to add value with new releases will cause them to either resort to draconian survival tactics that undermine consumer choice or understand the realities of the market.

    There are things that could somewhat mitigate this outcome (net neutrality for one), but only to the effect of buying the big players more time, not by avoiding the unavoidable.

  4. I think if sites like Facebook and MySpace remain closed they will eventually go the way of AOL, MSN, and Compuserve. At the end of the day, the whole point of the web is social networking, all that these sites have done is put an easy to use interface on top of it.

    As standards develop and APIs / Libraries pop up around them, the open alternatives will flourish, and just like other proprietary cash cows, the inevitable coming of their inability to add value with new releases will cause them to either resort to draconian survival tactics that undermine consumer choice or understand the realities of the market.

    There are things that could somewhat mitigate this outcome (net neutrality for one), but only to the effect of buying the big players more time, not by avoiding the unavoidable.

  5. tiffany says:

    True, Jason, but there are plenty of fan groups on Facebook. Is there a difference between when a fan creates the group or when the artist creates the group for his fans? Or if a company pays for the privilege of creating a group for fans?

    And in Baratunde’s specific case, what about members who were/are legitimate members — not just spookers or spammers — who also use the site for self-promotion? For example, I’m only on Facebook because a professional contact invited me to join. That connection could be lucrative for me at some point. So what are the boundaries that mark ‘commercial’ and ‘marketing’ and ‘spam’?

    I’m still not even clear on what Facebook’s beef was: that Baratunde had too many fans, or that he was using the service to promote his comedy gigs.

  6. tiffany says:

    True, Jason, but there are plenty of fan groups on Facebook. Is there a difference between when a fan creates the group or when the artist creates the group for his fans? Or if a company pays for the privilege of creating a group for fans?

    And in Baratunde’s specific case, what about members who were/are legitimate members — not just spookers or spammers — who also use the site for self-promotion? For example, I’m only on Facebook because a professional contact invited me to join. That connection could be lucrative for me at some point. So what are the boundaries that mark ‘commercial’ and ‘marketing’ and ‘spam’?

    I’m still not even clear on what Facebook’s beef was: that Baratunde had too many fans, or that he was using the service to promote his comedy gigs.

  7. Jason says:

    Coming from my big media company perch, I can see Facebook’s reasoning: Using the service as a marketing tool is a current and potential revenue stream (one that myspace currently exploits mightily); this model of using the service isn’t part of their core business and strategy and may, in the long run, adversely effect their core strategy; and so on.

    I’m not saying it’s right. I just understand the reasoning.

    I think the easiest way to deal with this is transparency. Being explicit about the terms and rules of creating a group or using other services within facebook when a user adds them would curb this expectation of the site being something it’s not. They already do this explicit explanation with the 3rd party facebook apps.

  8. Jason says:

    Coming from my big media company perch, I can see Facebook’s reasoning: Using the service as a marketing tool is a current and potential revenue stream (one that myspace currently exploits mightily); this model of using the service isn’t part of their core business and strategy and may, in the long run, adversely effect their core strategy; and so on.

    I’m not saying it’s right. I just understand the reasoning.

    I think the easiest way to deal with this is transparency. Being explicit about the terms and rules of creating a group or using other services within facebook when a user adds them would curb this expectation of the site being something it’s not. They already do this explicit explanation with the 3rd party facebook apps.

  9. AG says:

    Well, FBOOK has every right to protect their brand and leverage it as they choose.
    IMHO, myspace was designed especially for indie artists or entertainers. The fact that myspace is crawling w/teens is a subject for another discussion. Methinks Baratunde would do better within myspace. That said, I suppose the community should decide the value of the network. Simple case of Metcalfe’s Law, were it not for the community, the value of the network would be minimal.

    To reiterate what others have said, FBOOK is the ultimate walled garden. So you really have to be a bit guarded about putting your most trusted data out there. Unfortunately, this is the risk you run if you trust others with your data. I would not be surprised that if FBOOK continues to hold tightly to “its” data, that people won’t eventually reverse-engineer and clone it. I’ll go out on a limb and say it will happen.

  10. AG says:

    Well, FBOOK has every right to protect their brand and leverage it as they choose.
    IMHO, myspace was designed especially for indie artists or entertainers. The fact that myspace is crawling w/teens is a subject for another discussion. Methinks Baratunde would do better within myspace. That said, I suppose the community should decide the value of the network. Simple case of Metcalfe’s Law, were it not for the community, the value of the network would be minimal.

    To reiterate what others have said, FBOOK is the ultimate walled garden. So you really have to be a bit guarded about putting your most trusted data out there. Unfortunately, this is the risk you run if you trust others with your data. I would not be surprised that if FBOOK continues to hold tightly to “its” data, that people won’t eventually reverse-engineer and clone it. I’ll go out on a limb and say it will happen.

  11. tiffany, thanks for picking this up. great conversation here.

    @AG, you’ve got a point on the myspace tip. if you want some fun, read my posts blasting them as well. MySpace is a case of incomplete features left and right. A few examples.

    1) only recently has it become possible for me to COMPOSE and email message on myspace to a specific friend. In other cases, I had to find their profile (and Search did NOT work) and click “message this user” or reply to a message they had sent me.

    2) I wanted to send out invites to people within the Boston area for a show but could not because it did not identify the people in Boston. It was nice on paper, but the actual use was useless.

    There is much to love about the IDEA of facebook but as Rasheed said, “social networking” will eventually become what “email” has become in large part: an interoperable standard where providers compete on levels of service and additional features (storage, advanced search, antivirus, interface, etc).

    While I have a wishlist of things I want from Facebook documented in the older post (untapped possibility), this week’s post was born of frustration ultimately due to the lack of transparency that Jason mentioned.

    If I new that the limit for group messages was 500 users, I would have stopped growing my group at 499 and created another one. OR I would never have created the group in the first place. Since all these people joined my group VOLUNTARILY, I do not consider my messages spam. They are free to leave if they find me annoying. My beef is that I did not have all the information to make a true decision. Having seen groups like “I was born when Pluto was still a planet” with TENS of thousands of users, I never thought I would have a problem like this.

    With all these people on facebook, I never thought that I needed to get them on my own email list. They clearly liked Facebook. THAT was a bad decision, but it’s one Facebook contributed to by not telling people the rules of the road.

    Beyond the transparency issue, however, I’m a believer in building a system based on how your users want to use it. There are no “rules” with social networking. If you find that lots of people want a feature, who are you to say that it isn’t valid? Facebook is as new to this as its users are, and they, NOT MySpace, have fought to define themselves as a “platform.”

    I’m not sure they qualify to use such a lofty term given their closed nature on so many fronts.

  12. tiffany, thanks for picking this up. great conversation here.

    @AG, you’ve got a point on the myspace tip. if you want some fun, read my posts blasting them as well. MySpace is a case of incomplete features left and right. A few examples.

    1) only recently has it become possible for me to COMPOSE and email message on myspace to a specific friend. In other cases, I had to find their profile (and Search did NOT work) and click “message this user” or reply to a message they had sent me.

    2) I wanted to send out invites to people within the Boston area for a show but could not because it did not identify the people in Boston. It was nice on paper, but the actual use was useless.

    There is much to love about the IDEA of facebook but as Rasheed said, “social networking” will eventually become what “email” has become in large part: an interoperable standard where providers compete on levels of service and additional features (storage, advanced search, antivirus, interface, etc).

    While I have a wishlist of things I want from Facebook documented in the older post (untapped possibility), this week’s post was born of frustration ultimately due to the lack of transparency that Jason mentioned.

    If I new that the limit for group messages was 500 users, I would have stopped growing my group at 499 and created another one. OR I would never have created the group in the first place. Since all these people joined my group VOLUNTARILY, I do not consider my messages spam. They are free to leave if they find me annoying. My beef is that I did not have all the information to make a true decision. Having seen groups like “I was born when Pluto was still a planet” with TENS of thousands of users, I never thought I would have a problem like this.

    With all these people on facebook, I never thought that I needed to get them on my own email list. They clearly liked Facebook. THAT was a bad decision, but it’s one Facebook contributed to by not telling people the rules of the road.

    Beyond the transparency issue, however, I’m a believer in building a system based on how your users want to use it. There are no “rules” with social networking. If you find that lots of people want a feature, who are you to say that it isn’t valid? Facebook is as new to this as its users are, and they, NOT MySpace, have fought to define themselves as a “platform.”

    I’m not sure they qualify to use such a lofty term given their closed nature on so many fronts.