Why Facebook Can’t Be Google

Facebook’s recent privacy policy woes stem from a fundamental flaw in understanding their own platform. So an excellent post by blogger Adam Fields appears to point out. Though phenomenally popular, FB is in dire need of a business model. Their hope, like Google’s, is to leverage the huge amount of data they accumulate from their 400MM+ users to make money selling advertising. However, these users are trusting FB to keep their data private — or at least only be used 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 useful to advertisers, forms the basis of the conflict they’ve created with their users. The crux is that FB data is social in nature as opposed to Google’s which is public. Public data is more useful when more people know about it. Social data, however, has inherently much less reach because it’s purpose is not widespread consumption, but the limited social circle for which it’s published.

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 their 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, and 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 is just different.

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