Monthly Archives: May 2010Blog

Why Facebook Can’t Be Google

Facebook’s recent privacy policy woes stem from a fundamental flaw in understanding its own platform, as an excellent post by blogger Adam Fields points out. Though phenomenally popular, FB needs a business model. Their hope, like Google’s, is to leverage the data they accumulate from their huge base of users to make money selling advertising. However, these users expect they can trust FB to keep their data private — or at least to use it only in ways they approve. Additionally, users want control over the data they provide, and they want those controls to be easy to use and stable in the sense that the privacy policy doesn’t change every few months.

The fact that FB wants to make users’ data more publicly available, and therefore more valuable to advertisers, forms the basis of the conflict they’ve created with their users. The crux is that FB’s data is social while Google’s is public, and public data is more useful when more people know about it. Social data, however, inherently has much less reach because its purpose is not for widespread consumption but to serve a limited social circle.

From Fields’ post:

“Social sharing isn’t the same as public sharing. When I write something in a public forum, I want as many people as possible to read it. In that kind of forum, Google can make more money if more people see it, as can Facebook (which is why Facebook is trying to turn its entire platform into a more public one). This is at odds with what the users want for social, which is controlled sharing among a very small group. There is certainly an aspect of making new friends and extending one’s social circle outwards, but the object here is generally to share only inside that circle. People tend to resist being forced or coerced by the platform to share more widely.”

Hijacking user data appears to be a bad strategy for FB unless it can persuade users to give up their current ideas about privacy. And just as FB can never be Google, Google will find it difficult to become a social platform like FB because the nature of the data at the heart of each platform is different.

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