Building a People-Centric web is a fight for a lost cause

Don Quixote, Image taken from Wikipedia

Don Quixote, Image taken from Wikipedia

A number of posts drew my attention this week. First, 2 respectable media outlets explain us that the Facebook exodus has started. While I am not a big fan of Facebook (its their business model I don’t like), both the NY Times and the Guardian are writing sensational yet unfounded stories about the start of the downfall of Facebook. From the NY Times:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Facebook, the online social grid, could not command loyalty forever. If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters. One person shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her. Another thought the scene had turned desperate. A third feared stalkers. A fourth believed his privacy was compromised. A fifth disappeared without a word.

Based upon the evidence of five people leaving Facebook the exodus has started? In the very next paragraph the author already kills his own headline:

The exodus is not evident from the site’s overall numbers. According to comScore, Facebook attracted 87.7 million unique visitors in the United States in July. But while people are still joining Facebook and compulsively visiting the site, a small but noticeable group are fleeing — some of them ostentatiously.

A Facebook exodus is a slight overstatement, especially now that Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook has passed the 300Mn active users and is now free cash flow positive.

Granted, I’ve predicted a few times that Facebook usage would decline myself, and I was wrong too. My assumption, that the Facebook business model stands in the way of your online friendships, turns out to be incorrect. While I’m worried about the network-centric approach that sites like Facebook take, putting the value of the network growth over the value that an individual user gets, the user doesn’t care. They play around, have a great time, and as a byproduct ensure that the different advertisement schemes and virtual goods that Marks sells them make Facebook a cool $ 500+ Mn a year.

It’s something that I find hard to accept. To me, online relationships are no different from real life relationships when it concerns friends and people I have met in real life. We would never accept Mark Zuckerberg holding up billboard displays of hot and sexy girls in our face, while we are having a good time at a friends house. Yet that is exactly what Facebook can do online. It’s called targeted advertisement. I tend to think that’s BS. Sex sells, but there is nothing targeted about that.

What I find more disturbing is that the Facebook business model forces them to exploit our profiles, our friends, and our interactions commercially. We get a free service, and in return we get Big Brother watching us every day. Facebook has great privacy preferences (hidden away carefully), but even the ultimate guide to Facebook privacy can’t tell me where that one switch is that protects me from Facebook.

But why am I complaining. 300Mn people beg to differ. They don’t care about all of that. I may think that we are losing something precious here, our individuality and a personal control over our own online lives. That we are locking ourselves in and don’t care about it. Human nature at its best. The rest of the word just doesn’t care.

Chris Messina and Jyri Engström have written a great post on the People-Centric Web (I have always called it a User-Centric web). But it’s fighting for a lost cause. It’s Don Quixote and Sancho Panza fighting windmills. The dominant web business models are based upon the exploitation of our data, our interactions. And unless that changes, unless users are willing to pay for the value they get, that business model will remain to be dominant. Having People-centric technology and services isn’t good enough. They are useless without People-centric business models. Mark Zuckerberg proves that. Sadly, that also means that we will never be truly free or in control of our own doings on the web. But who gives a shit about that?

About vanelsas

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3 Responses to Building a People-Centric web is a fight for a lost cause

  1. Pingback: Bookmarks week 38 | Bijgespijkerd

  2. There is still hope. Looking at the world population 300 mil. people are still a minority. There are still over 6.4 bil. people who are not a member of facebook (including me).
    I also know of people who are a member of facebook, but they don’t see the point of it either. Questions like, what was wrong with hyves or email, or even a phonecall or textmessage keep popping up. And I couldn’t agree more. There is just no point in doing all that on the web, for everyone to see. You don’t record your phone calls and publish them online, nor do you expose your email to others, are you?

  3. @Jonathan, thanks for dropping by🙂

    300Mln is a lot, but I think what is more worrisome is that the resistance against new (user-centric) business models is really large. And unless that resistance is taken away, we will keep business models that essentially focus on monetizing your public profile😦

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