Thursday, December 13th, 2012

A Facebook-Free Future

A Facebook-Free Future
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Too many marketers are hopping in the sack with Facebook – without even stopping to ask whether it’s a good idea or even whether the right protection is being used

While I’m hearing you go on about your favourite new band, weekend in the tropics or some other random minutiae, I also take a moment to reflect on Mr. Zuckerberg, computer programmer and co-founder of Facebook. Maybe he’s a technological genius, or perhaps he’s just a nice, well-meaning kid. I don’t know. As I look at his shit-eating grin, though, I have to wonder whether he’s sitting naked in his office, eating a bag of corn chips, maniacally laughing at us, while inspecting plans for his secret underground lair.

Facebook Scares Me

There was a day when we were all pretty pissed about Microsoft bundling its browser with its OS. How things have changed. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the same sort of thing getting any attention from the news media now, not to mention the U.S. Justice Department. Google doesn’t just own search, it has you sucking at the teet of its apps and blunderingly opening your e-mail up to its ad engine. Meanwhile, the “walled garden” folks over at Apple seem intent on establishing an iron lock on publishing through iTunes and its App Store—and other, rather questionable, stuff.

From a brand management perspective, though, Facebook seems scarier. Any good drug dealer knows that offering the first taste free isn’t an expense, but rather an investment. Similarly, Facebook tempts us with “tastes” of so many delightful things: a sense of community and connection, methods for perpetually engaging a brand’s audience and “moderation-free” commenting widgets for use on your site. I use a lot of this stuff and I should love it. In truth, it freaks me out.

As of late last year, Facebook accounted for one out of every four page views in the United States. That’s a shitload of traffic running through one site and it proves almost impossible for today’s marketer to ignore. Like that taste of meth, it isn’t without risk. As you pin your brand’s user engagement to this technology, you effectively hand the keys over to Mark’s little empire. If that isn’t bad enough, the allure of the commenting widget (used on sites as substantial as TechCrunch) ultimately hands your Website’s conversation over to others. (I’d continue my list here, but I have less than 1,000 words to work with.)

What if?

On weekends, most people watch movies, play with their kids or take in a game. I’m one of those sad souls who does the first two, and then daydreams what a future without Facebook might look like. I’m quite convinced that any digital platform can fail (think AOL, MySpace, Friendster) and that tying our client’s brands to any such entity brings with it substantial risk. What happens if the tides change for “The Mighty F”? How do you deal with unexpected API changes that break your branded Facebook app? What if Facebook starts censoring content due to its own brand of morality? I’ve skimmed some of those user agreements, and let me tell you: They certainly aren’t written in your favour.

While there are occasional rumblings of alternatives and open networks, for the most part, these are non-starters. Brands go where the people are, and the people are most definitely on Facebook. What if… just, what if… there were another way? I’m thinking a distributed network with common elements, a network with no central ownership or just a selection of community tools that you could implement on your own Web property, without having to give up the farm.

Ignoring some of the logistics around this leads me to wax all poetic. I imagine a “wall” that lives on your site, “likes” that stick with you regardless of platform, and a community that is comprised of you and your members – not owned by a third-party technology provider. Far-fetched? Perhaps, but in practicality, the things we’re talking about aren’t actually that complex, from a technical standpoint. It comes down to how you encourage broad enough adoption to reach a necessary critical mass.

In the Meantime…

I acknowledge that my ponderings on such topics may be compared to the same sort of nonsense good ol’ Cliff Clavin spouted on Cheers. At the same time, I feel like too many marketers are hopping in the sack with Facebook—without even stopping for a moment to ask whether it’s a good idea or even whether the right protection is being used.

While I dream of a distributed and open social network – and perhaps a hovercraft – I leave you with one brief notion we’re sharing with our clients (sorry, you’ll have to pay for more of ’em).

Reconsider the role these networks play in your marketing. Instead of posting everything there—and allowing them to leech your content—consider treating Facebook, Twitter and the like as places to just tease. For example, post a status update that reads, “See photos of our CD drunk at last week’s award show here:,” versus just posting the photo. This means that instead of the dialogue ending on Facebook, people are coming to your site, where you can show them other stuff, present offers, whatever. (I know this is a pretty lame example, but you catch my drift, yes?)

You Can’t Touch This!

I could be looking at all of this the wrong way. As a chorus of brand managers discusses moving “everything” to Facebook, though, I’m left to wonder if these same folks invested all their wealth with Bernie Madoff. I wouldn’t trust my cash with any single individual. Likewise, I wouldn’t trust too much of my brand’s future with a single social network.

BTW: As for you and the new lair, Zuck, I suggest the inclusion of a cognac-filled hot tub.

This article originally appeared in Applied Arts Magazine.

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Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Jesse says:

    First time caller, long time listener.

    Always enjoy the Cheers reference... so marketers are the Sam Malone in this story?

    Seems too easy to just say "careful about Facebook". All your issues aside (which I agree with ), brands are faced with resourcing issues vs. the attraction of a brand page on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or YouTube, is hard to resist. Some even willingly make that compromise with brand stewardship simply because of the higher (and instant) engagement.

    I've often find that because a brand never saw the kind of engagement they get on Facebook on their own website that it's a challenge to change perceptions of what a "website" can be (And thuslyPAY for). That's the hard part. Even when clients get that they need to be careful about the role these social media sites play.

    Two questions, if you have time...

    Any examples of brand or organization you feel is doing is right?

    Where do you sit with options like Diaspora or, etc? too techy (wierd) for most clients?

  2. I don't have an example that immediately comes to mind. Part of this is because I'm unsure of what exactly defines "right." Additionally, the limited alternatives make it difficult to avoid this platform (as you pointed out) regardless of one might wish to do.

    That said, we're asking a lot of our clients to push users out of Facebook and back to their own sites; or to use the Facebook API selectively, but not sink everything into Facebook.

    Since I last checked, Diaspora was a non-starter. seems like a nice way to get around ads, but I don't know how it will be fundamentally different from Facebook if they ever get it to mainstream adoption (which I think to be unlikely).

    I may be old-fashioned, but I believe the web is best when things are open. The notion of decentralized protocols seems important to me. For example, everyone uses email, but no one owns email (in spite of many building businesses atop of it). Perhaps that's the question: how could we make protocols for activity, instead of locking ourselves into today's AOL?

  3. Jesse says:

    Thanks! (sry for my lousy typos)...

    Being old-fashioned or being future-friendly?

    Falling on the side of "right" maybe is NPR. The story API is, well, a good story.

  4. Detrus says:

    There are at least ten distributed social network attempts that are going nowhere besides Diaspora. looks nice from a technical standpoint.

    And there are at least a thousand discussions about Facebook being scary and a distributed network being necessary on HN. But Facebook will have to significantly screw up their product before this idea gets serious attention. That will take a while.

    Meanwhile the next junky internet gimmick may be centralized, like Instagram or Path.

  5. Pingback: News – 12/14/2012 | Brooklyn Art Project

  6. Again I had to like your article I enjoy putting up an opinion fight but each time you not leave me the opportunity. :-)
    And "mea culpa" I am one of the billion that is FB guilty as charged. If one does not take care the charges are heavy as in "three life sentences without parole."
    Ever wondered what happened to FB when one is departed? Do they have have a FB heaven where they park the pages "in memoriam" in honor or do we get wiped of the platter, washed and replaced by 1GB of free disc space? I think FP should be guarantee our pages kept for ever in honor of what the departed said and liked and loved, and just in case we may want to post or like something from the other side.
    I have private page (not under my real name, that my real friends know) and I have a work/company page where I limit things to Design and Design links I like.
    Oh god, do I dare let my network addiction re-surface and ask you to like it? I am nearing 100 "likers" :-). Oh jolly it's Xmas why not go ahead look, chose and click like be daring and giving.
    I also run a FB for a gay "nudist wreck beach" group. I learned the hard way that I had to make sure to log out from my private FB page, not to be the "poster" and end up being my company linked to the nudist page. After all the way I tan is my privacy not FB's.
    Why can't a company FB page "like" someone elses page hello FB ever considered that amazing possibility of one Designer page "liking" another Designer page?
    Good that I read the FB small print and I have not accepted to play the many stupid "girly" games of sending digital gifts and doing apps that "post and comment on my behalf".
    God I have not developed Alzheimer status yet, and if one day I do. Tell me every morning that my name is Superman and dress me in a cape and I'll die happy. But till then no app will speak or comment or post on my behalf.
    I admit FB can be fun, visually very informative side and addictive although I think Pinterest beats that approach, as one can chose the type of visuals. I have my personal Pinterest since the Net has been created I have collected near 75K+ pics that inspired me and categorized them. Should you like to peek feel free to contact me and I give you my password. It's all Design oriented nothing kinky.
    With this I leave you to rejoin my FB cloud that overshadows my computer, tablet, cellphone, TV and who knows, maybe they'll make coffins with inside touch screens for those who believe in FB beyond the big white light!
    Merry Hollidays yo'all :-) ho ho ho.

  7. Pingback: A Facebook-Free Future | ideasonideas | facebook in the news

  8. itexists says:

    i have the solution you envision. it is elegant in design. it works. it's tested. it's reliable. and you can build stuff on top of it. i.e. it's a potential "microstandard", like IP, UDP, TCP, etc. it is the simple foundation. it solves the NAT problem.

    what i don't have is geeky friends to help me beta test this in some use case, e.g. as a popular abstraction like a social network, as a way to connect all your devices (both local and remote), or as a method of making voip calls.

    gamers have long solved the NAT problem routinely, in order to connect to each other and play games. the concepts behind my solution might be familiar to a hard core gamer. but gamers have little interest in anything like facebook. moreover i'm not a gamer.

    though i am a closet nerd, my friends are not nerds.

    with what i've put together, i have a very efficient and secure way to transfer bits from one to one or one to many. there is no third party interloper that sees any traffic. at least one server with open connection to the public internet must used to help set up the peer-to-peer connections for people behind NAT, and keep the connections alive. but it does not necesarily have to controlled by a third party (other than ISP/hosting provider) and the only packets it sees are ones used for pinging. these contain only ip addresses in the private ranges (127.,192.,172., 10.) and their associated ports, and nothing more. there is no possibility for snooping on payloads and analysing them for marketing purposes. such packets travel directly between peers, and are optionally encrypted. no third parties are invited to the network.

    i'm fine with the idea that no one is going to get wealthy from spreading this solution. it's open source. the code, in various evolutionary stages, was published, years ago.
    there will be no patents.

    businesses might create wealth by using the solution, but i'm not interested in making money from this. i'm interested in moving beyond facebook. it's sort of like wikipedia. regardless if anyone profits directly from it, it's just very useful and is the right thing to do.

    so, what do you think? what should i do? where can i find sensible people who are comfortable with the command line, who i can befriend to help me test this?

    i enjoyed this blog post. i see many like it. alas, none of the people with vision beyond facebook's solution to "connectivity" (posting photos and such on a kid's website... now called a company) are friends of mine.

  9. Mark says:

    What I see happening is fragmentation of face book into smaller or "tribal based" social networks where common skills interests and passions are spurring up around a shared value commons. I can see these smaller fragmentations forming a larger network independent of facebook but still connected.