The Social Facebook Fiasco

A huge blocker to understanding business value and usage of modern 2.0 technologies is the Facebook fiasco.

A huge blocker to understanding business value and usage of modern 2.0 technologies is the Facebook fiasco.

The 800 pound/350 million accounts gorilla in the 'social' space confuses the heck out of most of the planet. The latest attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory: your personal information wants to be free. By default, according to Facebook- so they can make a buck off it.

Facebook is inexorably moving towards monetizing your social graph. This makes their product an open content management system - one that allows anyone online to rummage through your personal relationships, photos and musings and essentially an alternate internet. This is basically in the face of services like Twitter who are more focused on differentiation of your consciously living your life in the open and maintaining privacy elsewhere online... using services like Facebook (as it was before the latest change of terms).

Importantly, the effect of these Facebook fiascos are a confused business audience, some of whom would like to see an 'enterprise Facebook' in their corporate environment...if they could get a handle on Facebook's ever mutating terms of service.  Nothing gives corporate IT security folks ulcers quicker than company intellectual property living online in environments that are a keystroke away from being available to the planet.

The fact that enterprise 2.0 vendors are generally very security conscious and arguably more aware of the importance of IP protection than many other areas of IT is undermined by Facebook's cavalier attitude to their free service customer's online artifacts. The assumption in some business circles is that business 'social software' is even flakier than Facebook, with no locks on the doors.

The whole 'social' online world is rife with marketing oriented behavior where the Faustian bargain is you use 'free' services but accept that your every move online is being tracked and exploited, and that when you have anything valuable worth 'sharing' it will be sold by that service.

Julia Angwin did a decent job of writing up  'How Facebook Is Making Friending Obsolete' in the Wall Street Journal:

Just as Facebook turned friends into a commodity, it has likewise gathered our personal data – our updates, our baby photos, our endless chirping birthday notes— and readied it to be bundled and sold.

So I give up. Rather than fighting to keep my Facebook profile private, I plan to open it up to the public – removing the fiction of intimacy and friendship.

But I will also remove the vestiges of my private life from Facebook and make sure I never post anything that I wouldn't want my parents, employer, next-door neighbor or future employer to see. You'd be smart to do the same.

Dan Gilmor shows you how to delete your Facebook and reconstitute it, still with your username but in a new blander version suitable for sharing with an impersonal world here.

The personal privacy fiasco opens up a real business opportunity for new personal services like Blackbox Republic, who are essentially dedicated to respecting your online privacy. It's not free but it makes sure your personal life details aren't either.

Since Facebook have managed to make their 650,000 strong developer ecosphere hate them by closing and constraining channels I have to wonder how long it will be before the next 'social network' product takes the world by storm.

Meanwhile we have to deal with the effect of Facebook on the enterprise. People not paying much attention to what they perceive as a teenage space mean business analytics aligned with 2.0 collaborative technologies are still somehow pigeonholed in with 'social media' marketing, Twitter hustlers and Facebook being promiscuous with your data.

Separately Andrew McAfee, the MIT professor, author of 'Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization's Toughest Challenges' is careful to differentiate the word 'Social' and term 'Enterprise 2.0' on his blog, which prompted some interesting comments from interested parties.

My definition is narrow, corporate, and managerial, and I’m glad to have it labeled as such. I think it’s both prudent and responsible to be circumspect about one’s claims, and I think it’s neither to assert that the old rules of society, culture, or business no longer apply because of the appearance of a network, some software that sits of top of it, and a large number of (primarily younger) people who like using it. As I wrote a little while back, Enterprise 2.0 is not THAT big a deal.

But whether or not it’s a big deal, it’s not going to be ANY deal until ESSPs ('emergent social software platforms') and their attendant practices make their way inside organizations. And the point I was trying to make in my talk, and the one I still believe, is that keying the message / sales pitch / marketing / education effort around the word ’social’ is a bad idea.

The debate about what to call using modern collaborative techniques leveraging 2.0 web technologies isn't terribly important, as Andy stresses - it's all about getting focused on the business value for your organization in context.

Using the word social in this context comes with an enormous amount of baggage in all sorts of areas as well as the Facebook confusion outlined above. Intranets, extranets and collaboration environments are typically given internal names such as Booz Allen's 'Hello' system which won Stowe Boyd and I's 'Open Enterprise 2009' award this May at the Boston Enterprise 2.0 conference, the CIA have an internal 'Intellipedia' and so on.

I can't help thinking that like Facebook, the 'Social Business/Enterprise 2.0/Web 2.0 etc ecospheres are doing a good job obfuscating value to a potential audience already reeling from the recession. Clarity and consistency are important to everyone, whether as individual or business users.

2010 will see much greater 2.0 thinking business maturity and understanding of value, but I have a feeling the personal, consumer and marketing spaces will undergo significant disruption and change.

Mark Zuckerberg & Chris Cox image embedded here from the Facebook album: "Streams, Ties & Mustaches" by Caitlin O'Farrell

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