Monday 24 May 2010

Share; sharing; shared?

Some thoughts about semantics (especially for Mark Zuckerberg and others):

What do we mean by "share"? In the real world where people sit together at kitchen tables and drink hot drinks and chat about the next-door neighbour, there are two kinds of sharing. There is one chocolate biscuit left so you agree to break it in half and share it. That is the most basic kind. It is free. Equal by definition. Generous of spirit. There are no strings.

The other kind of sharing can be a little more complicated. In the discussion about the next-door neighbour, one of the coffee drinkers at the kitchen table might say:

"I have a good story about the neighbour - I am going to share it with you."*

Superficially this information is going to be free. But there is often a lot of tacit code attached:
"I am party to information to which you are not."
"I am generously going to make you party to it too."
"I am giving up something with my act of sharing with you."
"By telling you that I am going to share something with you, I am reminding you that that is what I am doing."
And, depending on the context, there may be many other strings attached.

(*especially if they are American - it may be just me, but I suspect that on the European side of the pond we find this use of 'share' a tiny bit creepy - pompous even - and are much more likely simply to say, "I am going to tell you something.")

But what about the meaning of "share" online and in a social web and networking environment? It has become clear that it depends which side of the user-provider fence you are standing on. The friend on Facebook - if they think about it at all - mostly believes, or used to believe, that clicking "share" meant they are simply posting something for their friends to see. But the FB executive trying to create income streams for their social network sees every click you make as a potential money-spinner. "Share" has surreptitiously come to mean "Share with the world; share with every application and site which is prepared to pay for it." (In some ways this is no bad thing: Targeted ads are surely better than un-targetted ones.) All social web apps like to use the term "share". It has become an industry standard. But wouldn't "post" or even "broadcast" be more appropriate?

And it is disingenuous of Facebook to try and have us believe that the current incredibly tedious and long-winded privacy settings you can use to combat their version of sharing are simply a silly mistake on their part. Who are they kidding? (Somebody really designed all those forms by mistake?) They will do something about it because of enormous public pressure. But only because of that pressure. In reality they would like every user to let them use/sell everything they do on Facebook.

And therein lies the great struggle between social network provider and user. We want 'free' social networks. The 'free' social networks need to make money by some means or other.

But I am convinced it will not be through business, large or small, except by the placement of traditional ads. I believe Facebook simply isn't for business, whatever people have been persuaded, or like to imagine. Another recent FB débâcle proves this in my opinion. Facebook have decided to make Page owners with under 10,000 fans pay for the full facilities associated with Pages in one way or another. Please see: As one would expect small Page owners are furious. I have picked out just two, among numerous excellent and pertinent comments attached to the Allfacebook piece:
" I’ve been fuming about Facebook for a while, and how they deliberately make it difficult for small businesses to organically grow a following. This move further proves that Facebook is no friend of small biz. Unless you have an established brand and know how to find your customers on Facebook, it’s fast-becoming a next-to-useless marketing “tool” for small business. Boycott I say!
Lucy Beer - May 19th, 2010 at 7:22 pm "

" Makes you wonder what else they will “take away” with no notice. This is another good reason why you need your own website or blog where YOU call the shots not Facebook…
Michelle Hummel - May 19th, 2010 at 8:20 pm "

" need your own website or blog..." Oh yes. Exactly. Your website is yours. People will find it, whether they are FB users or not. Forget Facebook!

So how is Facebook to make money? I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Targeted, discreet ads in the right column à la Google. (I'm prepared to give up certain aspects of my online privacy to have targeted ads rather than untargeted ones - for me that is a no-brainer.) And that's it. If this reduces the perceived value of Facebook, then so be it. Sorry guys and gals. But with 500 million users surely it is worth it for business to advertise?

Just a thought: Does all this winding up by Facebook of their 500 million and business to boot, bring my Second Wish a little bit closer?

PS: If you want to check that you have the strongest privacy settings at Facebook, and maybe completely lock-down the service, follow these 33(!) steps. Not all are sensible - why prevent your friends posting on your wall, for one thing? But as a basic guide to navigating FB's current byzantine privacy settings it is helpful.
(Note: some of the features are called different things in different parts of the world.)

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