So the maples formed a union

It's simple math

You should read this article if you are a Facebook user of any kind. It will let you know a bit about what is going on with FB, and why your newsfeed doesn’t behave the same way it used to:

I end up of two minds on this. I am always a fan of small things that fit well [underwear joke redacted], and rarely a fan of mass-marketed things that will do anything to fit everyone inside them [Madonna joke redacted].

That means I get particularly frustrated by situations like this, when small things make the decision to risk their value on big things. It’s a common mistake, and a usually leads to noble but futile gestures. Lemme ‘splain.

First I will say that FB has always been an OK site for “social media” (Which you may read as “mostly pointless conversation between people bored at work and/or school”). It started out as a really pretty good social media site and keeps getting worse, but if you keep your friends count low, lock and block just about every stupid new thing offered, stay on top of the privacy settings and and ignore almost everything but the middle of the page, it’s still OK.

All FB really does is combine a bunch of functionality that we have had for quite a long time in Interweebs years. It’s a threaded discussion board with a clunky interface that makes it hard to contextualise past conversations combined with a clunky text chat interface combined with a media gallery with a confusing interface combined with a shared calendar that only provides you with one view. There are very simple games and apps, which can only work inside FB inside a browser, and minimal user customisation of the interface is offered.

It is not rocket surgery. It’s just really big. Particularly, it’s really, really, really big in the back end [Mix-a-Lot joke redacted]. And it keeps getting bigger, because it keeps every little bit of data that anyone puts into it, and there are over a billion accounts.

Facebook started out as a thing that a few people used, became thing that lots of people used, and is now a thing that almost everyone expects everyone is using. It did this very quickly, without any real idea idea of how to monetise the thing. All of that would be just fine–the same thing happened with fire, shaving and sidewalks.

The problem is, the dominant mentality in technology business is that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing for far more money than it’s worth. Facebook became ridiculously, unworthily popular, with ridiculous, unsustainable growth, so the only possible business decision was apparently to figure out a way to value Facebook at a number so ridiculously ridiculous that the popularity and growth looked relatively sane and reliable.

But even people who can’t remember ten years ago couldn’t justify a value that ridiculously ridiculous without some kind of plan to explicitly generate revenue. So FB tacked on more advertising, which they tried to tie into all the data that people were voluntarily providing, just like the Googles. And they tried to partner with other sites by sharing data about who went where in order to make it easier to use that data to shove advertising in users’ faces.

FB then discovered that they would have to strike a balance between just using that data to shove advertising in users’ faces, and making it look like that wasn’t actually what they were doing. This is largely accomplished by trying something, gauging the response, and, if the response is dangerously negative, undoing what they did and issuing statements with the words “take our users’ privacy very seriously.”

Facebook’s latest attempt to make money involves controlling which of their users see which posts, and charging for access to user eyeballs.

Quick recap: All FB has going for it is its user base: FB adds practically NO value beyond that, has no other unique technology. FBs history has been one long story of trying to figure out how to convert that base into value, and doing just slightly more than failing at it. The overwhelming majority of FB users are on FB because “Everyone is on FB.” And as we’ve seen repeatedly with Internet stuff, that can change pretty fast.

Which brings us back to this article. I feel the writer’s pain here, really I do, but I think the focus is simply misplaced, and overly narrow. Sure, it sucks to have 53,000 users and not be able to reach them for free any more. But you are on a closed, proprietary system on which everything is controlled by a third party who does not share your agenda. Or even care about it. In fact, they are trying to subvert it.

People trying to sell things on FB are a tiny minority of users. And they are competing with FB itself for the same value that FB is trying to find in its users.

As well, despite the fact that “everyone” is on FB, lots of other social media platforms have buttloads of users. So anyone who depends solely on FB as a key part of their on-going marketing is more than a bit of a chump.

Putting it bluntly, using Facebook–or any one social media platform–as a key part of any long-term business plan is a really, really, really stupid idea.

And there are lots of alternatives.

I’ll say it yet again: All Facebook has of any potential value is a user base. They need to monetise that base. They plan to do that with advertising. It is hard to think of anything that they would care about less than a bunch of other companies being able to advertise for free on Facebook.

So sure. Get your 53,000 FB likers mad. Hope that some percentage of them get all up in arms. But understand that, even if they ALL do, that will be a whopping 0.0000053% of FB’s user base. And if you throw in all of George Takei’s 2.8 million likes, you would be almost up to .28%. If all the folks trying to advertise for free on FB with big like lists who are not willing to pay for placement gang up as much as they can, it is doubtful that they would mobilise even 2% of FB’s user base.

And there ARE companies out there who would be willing to pay the stupid rates that FB wants for featured posts. Big companies. Remember what made you think that FB was a good advertising platform? It was because you were on a level playing field where you could reach people who knew you better than those big companies.  It was somewhere big companies couldn’t out-spend you for customer attention.

Well, now they can, and they are loving it.

Facebook, a public company that is trying desperately to look like it has a plan to make billions and billions in value can not shitcan any part of that plan over 2% of their users whining that someone can’t get free value out of Facebook. Especially not if big companies are paying value into Facebook

I sound pretty cold here. I’m trying to be. I also sound like I’m against these smaller companies finding a way to reach people with their products. I am not. I do think that depending on Facebook to act in anyone’s interest but Facebook’s is utterly foolish, and standing too close to a flailing giant is a great way to get trod upon.

I really hope I am wrong here. I really, really do. But if you are small and what you do has real value, then you need to spend your resources finding another way to reach users, and just take what you can get for free from Facebook, with the understanding that what Facebook does for free will get smaller and smaller as time goes on.


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