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The Back Deck

Our view on navigating today’s marketing landscape

19 May

Facebook Under Fire: Where Will the Early Adopters Go?

Concerns over Facebook’s privacy settings have been filling my Twitter feed for days. A friend asked what I thought about Facebook’s privacy issues and I had to answer two ways: as a regular person and as a marketer. As a regular person, Facebook is not my social network of choice, (I’m a Twitter girl, through and through), so I was nonplussed. Facebook has never been interested in the individual rights of users—remember that whole thing a year and a half ago when Facebook quietly inserted a line into its legal agreement that said something like “we own all the content you put on your wall”? I’ve been cautious ever since—I’m in very few groups, I rarely “like” things and my follower group is embarrassingly small. As a marketer, however, I find Facebook’s open graph incredibly exciting. You mean if someone “likes” my website, I can then insert messages into their newsfeeds? Yes, please! Check out Justin Kistner’s excellent post on this over at Webtrends.

On the other hand, the latest round of Facebook privacy concerns has led to a diaspora among tech-savvy folks. As a social media lover and an admirer and follower of many early adopters, I’m paying attention to where they’re going. What I’ve seen so far—they’re taking it to Twitter and to their own blogs. What? No new social network someone has uncovered from Canada?

So what’s next? I mentioned a diaspora, right? Well, some tech-savvy college students have gotten together and started Diaspora. It’s an open-source social network that has yet to be built, but is already funded to the tune of $173,000 through Kickstarter. (Their goal was $10,000.) I have my five bucks on this—the tech-savvy people love open-source and hey, it’s college students! Just like Facebook!

Until those guys get their Facebook-crusher built and I hear a liftoff from my Twitter feed, I’m waiting for someone to take me up on my offer to bring back Friendster. C’mon. You know you miss getting email in your Hotmail about the birthday of that college friend whose name you can’t remember five years later. Who’s with me? … Hello?

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  1. avatar Julie Y says:

    It sure is interesting to think of Facebook as the establishment and emerging networks like Diaspora as the upstarts in the marketing equation. I think the advice from Groundswell provides a handy guide for what new social networks actually have staying power: Is it easy to sign up for? Helps people connect in new ways? Generates enough content to sustain itself? Lends itself to partnerships? Most importantly, moves power from institutions to the people? In today’s increasingly corporate environment online, Facebook is definitely feeling more and more like an institution.

  2. Thanks for the link and kind words, Melissa! As a fellow Twitter loyalist, I think they are the player to watch for as Facebook struggles with their privacy issues.

    Diaspora’s success is largely dependent on Facebook failing, which I don’t think they’ll do. There’s a rumor that Facebook will be rolling out simpler controls for privacy.

  3. avatar Bridget says:

    I suffer from the same dichotomy. I don’t want marketers finding out about my penchant for burberry scarves and Spanish Paprika, but I do want to market my stuff to a wide audience.
    I think that facebook will suffer the same fate as myspace, as all of the intelligentsia hop platforms, but only if the things we love about facebook transcend as well.
    I’m thinking of all those people who are more concerned about their farmville than their privacy.

  4. avatar Crissy says:

    I’m on Facebook all the time, but that’s mostly because my closest friends use it instead of my email, so I kind of have to use it. For the most part, I find it annoying, and I find the privacy settings hard to navigate. I think I’ve accomplished something and then find that I haven’t. If I didn’t have to use it, I wouldn’t.

    Twitter is better even though I’m not good at keeping things brief…

  5. avatar ken says:

    as far as facebook “privacy,” the following chart (courtesy of NYT) tells you all you need to know:

    it has turned into the worst kind of legalese.

  6. avatar Melissa Lion says:

    Julie: It will be interesting to apply those questions to the networks that compete for Facebook’s crown. I wonder what other questions will come up along the way. Exciting to think about.

    Justin: As always, thank you for your thoughts and comment. I’ll keep watching your posts for things I need to know as a marketer and as a social media practitioner.

    Bridget: I wonder how long Farmville will last. And what will replace it?

    Crissy: I think they’re constantly trying to please everyone.

    Ken: Thanks for the link. I admire the tenacity of the person who put that chart together.

  7. avatar Dave Allen says:


    I don’t want to come across as a curmudgeon or be overly critical, but your post is fraught with what appears to be flip floppery!

    You point out that many people are taking the Facebook folks to task over privacy, whilst saying that you don’t care for Facebook personally. Yet as a marketer, you admit that when those Facebook users who don’t understand how to protect their privacy, post “likes” to their walls, you are pleased as punch.. – “As a marketer, however, I find Facebook’s open graph incredibly exciting. You mean if someone “likes” my website, I can then insert messages into their newsfeeds? Yes, please!”

    That sounds like a double standard to me.

    As for the “diaspora among tech-savvy folk” moving to “Twitter and their own blogs” – really? Is that an assumption or can you share stats for that? I would presume (at least assume) that they had their blogs all along, as well as a Twitter account.

    And then to the start-up, Diaspora. Yes they’ve raised a lot of money through pledges, but no, I doubt it’s a Facebook-crusher. I asked a question on LinkedIn about Diaspora’s disruptive potential and one of the answers came from Howard Greenstein, President and Social Media Strategist at the Harbrooke Group who contributed to the project.

    He says: “Until we see the Diaspora code we won’t know whether these guys can take on Facebook. Remember, Facebook has 5 years of code building behind it. And will people really run their own servers? Then again, they run their own “P2P” network when they use Skype and no one really notices. If it is done right, this can be a great service. I see the potential.”

    He’s optimistic but if you read between the lines, he’s saying this is a network for tech geeks not the masses that inhabit Facebook.

    Meanwhile, rather than worry about Facebook-killing platforms I’d say we should pay attention to platform hegemony. The open web and the social web are far bigger “social” networks than Facebook. We should ensure that the web as a tool and a sandbox to play in should always remain that way, open.

    Here’s my 2 cents on that…

  8. avatar Melissa Lion says:

    Hi Dave: Thanks so much for your comment. Yes my personal and professional point of view on Facebook is a double-standard. No doubt about it. As for the tech-savvy folks, I didn’t say they were moving to Twitter or their own blogs, I said they’re taking it there. The next sentence, I felt, implied that they weren’t going anywhere new but I can see the potential confusion in the paragraph.

    Thank you for sharing Mr. Greenstein’s insights. All social networks transform over their lifetimes. Facebook was originally for college students exclusively. Twitter, well, seemed to me in 2007 to be a lot of people who knew about this zany thing called WordPress, and they could help me learn more. That view is, I’m sure, biased by living in Portland and being introduced to it by those very people. Now Twitter is ubiquitous – I can follow any number of brands or celebrities. Who knows how Diaspora or any other social network that has yet to be born will transform.

    Diaspora as Facebook-crusher was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I think we agree that an open web and open source networks are far more useful, appealing and constructive than a walled garden.
    As always, I’ll continue looking to early adopters like you for my clues about the next wave of social networks.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  9. avatar Torn says:

    The past month has been fraught with Red/Blue, Us/Them, Apple/Google, Facebook/Google, Facebook/Apple mega-positioning arguments – i.e. “who’s going to win control of EVERYTHING?”

    These make for nice daily distractions, while wars wage on and oil gushes unfettered into the Coastal waters – but, these arguments ultimately fail, whichever side of the coin you’re on. By now, we should have learned that we can’t use past templates to predict the future of media and technology.

    FACEBOOK will eventually fade and has likely started it’s decline. Nothing lasts forever in this space. And, FACEBOOK is exceptionally one-dimensional. Diaspora is a template of an old model with a new face. More likely, it seems, will be the disruption of the “mega” players like FACEBOOK and TWITTER with something that provides for a more personal, smaller scale engagement, coupled with less ad/marketing intrusion.

    As people realize that FACEBOOK and most “social media” are nothing more than an ad-platforms, they will migrate elsewhere.

    I’m watching a small group of Teens start to create little BUZZ hives (no pun intended), as a way of weaning off FACEBOOK. BUZZ gives you a FACEBOOK/TWITTER experience with your own controls and it is not an ad platform. It allows truly engaged, social digital interaction within confines of a group (Not great if you are desperate for a public profile, but, how many Rock Stars can the world sustain?)

    So, “mega-networks” like FACEBOOK and TWITTER will be replaced– just as “network television” collapsed with the introduction of cable; and, the current behemoth social networks will break apart far faster — maybe within 18 months. “Social Media” is the lamest form of social interaction. Eventually, humans will need more than distracting marketing noise to fulfill their actual need to be social.

    Or, I’m wrong and we’ve lost our ability to be truly social creatures and FACEBOOK is the future. Just as Las Vegas is the height of human evolution. We are superficial, star struck nothings who deserve whatever we get.

  10. avatar Dave Allen says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Yes, I mistook “taking it”, for “moving.” And apropos the Facebook privacy issue, Tim O’Reilly has a great post and POV where he comes down, surprisingly even to himself, on Facebook’s side. You can read it here It’s a great position.

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