Facebook has been catching a lot of crap lately. Some of it is inevitable–users who have been around longer getting tense/up in arms about the evolution that occurs as the community grows, etc etc.
But I’ve also seen quite a few stories lately about Facebook trying to assert its Facebook-ness, namely:
1. Limiting the number of users you can e-mail via a group (the story of Baratunde Thurston, via Danah Boyd’s post on facebook confusion. Rationale: Facebook is not Myspace (barely even paraphrasing-see Baratunde’s post.)
2. Censoring images of women breastfeeding and deleting the poster’s accounts with the note that “We will not be able to reactivate your account for any reason” (See the article in today’s Toronto Star). Rationale: It’s obscene, and Facebook is not the rest of the Internet (I am paraphrasing there).
This is where the social web becomes really interesting and problematic. It used to be the case that (for me, anyway), when one of the free services I used online did something that rubbed me the wrong way, I’d say “whatever, it’s free.” But Facebook, Flickr, and countless other services have become so ubiquitous and essential that you can no longer just shrug the weird or intrusive policies off. These are really key pieces of our identities and how we present ourselves to the world–but we don’t own them.
In the end, we’re just users, and we’re subject to their whims, and their terms of service. These aren’t organic, grassroots, populist movements that grow with their communities. Giving users ownership of the community is something that some organizations do well, and others… don’t do at all. Rather than just putting a tool out there and letting the users shape it, Facebook is taking a somewhat more authoritarian tact, trying to control the entire environment. They have their reasons for this: probably partially trying to guard against the often negative views of social network, which stem from Myspace; and partially because they have advertisers to worry about.
But in the end, they have users to worry about too. They have millions of them, and only a few ‘lactivists,’ and they may be content in saying that they don’t cater to entrepreneurs like Baratunde, so it may not seem like a big deal. But eventually, people have got to start caring… Just like they’re slowly catching on to the concepts of public vs. private on the web, concepts like proprietary vs. open, mine vs. ours will be a big deal, and if Facebook and others can’t evolve, they’ll be screwed.
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