If it was out there, I investigated it. Blogs. Forums. Second Life. Twitter. Yammer. Ning. You name it, I checked it out.
Some of these platforms made sense to me, others didn't. Some I embraced (e.g communities, blogging, Twitter), others I largely stayed away from.
And Facebook was one of those that simply raised hairs on the back of my neck.
Now, it's pretty clear why I had that perception.
How I Look At Things
People describe me as a mix of technology, marketing, psychology and business models. I can't help to consider things on all these levels when I encounter them -- it's instinctual.
And given how quickly things move in this market, I usually try to see how they might evolve over time. How will likely developments in technology change things? How will business models evolve? Sometimes I'm right in my guesses, other times I'm wrong. But I can't help doing it.
The Inherent Tradeoff In Many Models
So many social media models out there involve an inherent transaction -- you tell them something about yourself, and you get something of value in return.
Consider this blog -- you can learn a lot about me (and my company, and my industry) if you read it frequently. You can learn a lot about other people if you follow the comments.
And, in return, I benefit from doing so. I enjoy it for one thing, and my employer seems to think it's generally a good thing as well.
At a fundamental level, it's a trade -- simple economics, albeit in a new domain.
The same thing applies to search engines such as Google. I tell them what I'm looking for, they get the opportunity to monetize my preferences by serving me ads. You'll see the same generic sort of patterns in communities, forums, Twitter, etc.
Look Before You Leap
Understanding this fundamental trade is essential before embracing any new social media platform. Not only the initial proposition, but how it might evolve over time.
My first experience happened early on when I joined LinkedIn. My presence shortly resulted in getting bombarded with people looking for employment, or some sort of professional contact, not to mention an exponential increase in business-to-business email spam.
The trade wasn't working for me. I backed off.
My Perceptions of Facebook
When I first encountered Facebook, I quickly realized the stakes of the inherent transaction had dramatically increased.
Basically, it goes this way: if you reveal a great deal about yourself: personality, likes, friends -- the quintessential "social graph" that every marketeer craves -- Facebook would help me greatly expand my social interactions online.
I could see how this might evolve -- the more I use it, the more Facebook would understand me and my preferences at a level that can't easily be achieved with traditional means.
This knowledge (multiplied by 400 million users!) is an incomprehensible economic bonanza for anyone trying to sell you stuff. Marketeers spend many billions of dollars trying to understand their customers at progressively deeper and deeper levels.
And, given widespread adoption of Facebook, there's no way I could see their management resisting the temptation to monetize my preferences on the social web. Or any other management team, for that matter.
This is not to criticize Facebook, or any other for-profit enterprise that does something similar. It's simply business, folks, and you can choose to play or not as you see fit.
Thinking Honestly About PrivacyBTW, I agree with many who say that -- generally speaking -- there is no real privacy on the internet. Unless you personally take steps to guard your privacy, there's just too much economic incentive for various platforms and companies to monetize what they can find out about you.
As a result, I personally wanted very little to do with Facebook, or any other platform that uses a similar model. Despite (a) what everyone else was doing, and (b) Facebook management's efforts to mollify people, I tended to see it for what it was -- a business model built on sharing (and monetizing) my personal activities and preferences.
As a consumer, I decided not to play. It was a personal choice, and mine alone.
Facebook's (and Google's) privacy policies are very much in the news these days. I'm not surprised, are you? Sure, they've got a heck of a PR challenge on their hands, but -- more fundamentally -- they've got more of a business model challenge on their hands.
People are realizing that disclosing their activities, preferences, social acquaintances, etc. has incredible economic value. It's an enticing honey pot that smart business people just won't be able to keep their hands off.
Some may argue that it's the role of government to set appropriate boundaries, and enforce compliance.
I'd like to think that would be enough, but I know in my heart that we all will have to enter into these new forms of "transactions" with eyes open as to their ultimate motivations and potential consequences.
You buy a house with a 30-year mortgage, you're committed for the long term.
You embrace a social platform like Facebook, you're also committed for the long term, but in a very different way.What say you?