Remember back in 2004 and 2005 when Facebook was all about connecting college students to each other and it was the cool place to hang out? Remember the scene in social network when Zuck doesn’t want to start monetizing but Eduardo does? What was the argument again (summed up by Timberlake’s Sean Parker)?
Eduardo: Hey, you know what? Settle an argument for us. I say it’s time to start making money from TheFacebook, but Mark doesn’t want to advertise. Who’s right?
Sean: Um…neither of you yet. TheFacebook is cool that’s what it’s got going for it.
Eduardo: You don’t want to ruin it with ads because ads aren’t cool.
Whether this conversation took place in real life or not isn’t what matters, the point is what matters. Ads weren’t cool then and they still aren’t now, nor will they ever be. So far Facebook has done well to keep actual ads out of the way by putting them on the sidebar and not allowing them to disrupt the experience of the site. But the problem now is that they’re pulling them right into the middle of the site just in a different model than we’re used to seeing.
Fan pages are a great way for brands to connect to their customers and consumers to follow the brands that are important to them. Still relatively cool, you’re not being bombarded with what you don’t like or want to see, and you get to feel as though the brand cares about you, a little bit anyways. But this recent article in TechCrunch exposes some of what’s going on behind the scenes at the big f. The article discusses how brands are taking advantage of sponsored stories which basically turn you and your friends interactions (likes, comments, check-ins, etc.) with a brand’s fan page into an ad or endorsement for them that’ll display on your friends’ pages. Granted you can opt-out of it, but the default setting is turned to on. This happened in January and it didn’t really bother me then until I read the quote from Facebook’s ad chief Carolyn Everson who says “Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks advertising has to be as compelling as sharing a status update or sharing a photo”. Really now… what happened to the Mark who didn’t want to ruin his baby with advertising? Have the millions (sorry billions) clouded his vision? He was supposed to be connecting people to each other, providing shy individuals, such as himself, with a way of breaking the ice with the cute girl in calculus by poking and friending their way into her heart. Now? Sounds more like he’s building the largest advertising platform in the world, not the biggest social network in the world.
Yes, advertising is what makes facebook money and allows individuals to have free accounts, but should it really be the focus? From his quote it would seem as though he’d be happiest if you had more brands as friends than friends as friends. Maybe or maybe not, but the fact that it’s even a question is what’s bothersome. The advertising should always be secondary, and if Facebook wants to remain cool the money should always be secondary. Even if it isn’t, the illusion should always be that it is – and Zuck should know this. He should also know that dominance is fleeting these days. The ability for something or someone new to come out of nowhere and change the landscape has never been easier, and he’s a prime example (remember MySpace?). If he wants to avoid turning Facebook into the next MySpace he needs to keep it cool and cool is a fickle attribute to maintain. Granted he’s still holding the 500 million user trump card (which is why I’ll be posting a link to this on his site), but is it out of the question that 5 years from now MySpace is a platform where new musicians connect with people, Facebook is a platform where brands connect with people, and someone new and as of yet unknown is the platform where people connect with people? Call me crazy, but I don’t think it is.