Facebook's juvenile approach to TOS

Facebook may be the darling of the Zack Whittaker crowd but its announcement of a new way of formulating terms of service...or is it user rights...
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Facebook may be the darling of the Zack Whittaker crowd but its announcement of a new way of formulating terms of service...or is it user rights...or whatever shows a distinct lack of understanding about the way its own service operates let alone the commercial realities of running a for profit service.

In theory, the idea of letting users have a say is great. It's a bold step in the right direction. But - and this is where it all unravels, it won't work. Facebook established a group to solicit feedback from its community. On the press call, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO said that as they see comments coming through on the as yet to be seen 'rights', they may put important issues to a vote.

Facebook has created this group to publish, and solicit comments regarding, its proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (the “Statement”). Our proposed Statement is provided for your review in the first discussion thread below entitled “Read the proposed Statement of Rights and Responsibilities here.”

It won't work.

I spoke with Anne Petteroe, the person who started the group that acted as a beacon for dissent. She said that the way Facebook works, it is difficult to follow discussions and there is a risk that important items will simply fall through the cracks. In addition, she says the volume of emails she's been trying to manage amounts to a serious amount of work. Also, she is seeing so much spam (Facebook doesn't appear to have any real spam controls) that simply deleting garbage is taking up a lot of her time.

Ergo, unless Facebook plans to devote a team of people who are constantly monitoring and gardening the group, it will end up a shambles. Then of course it will have to manage the tsunami of complaints from people who feel as though their point of view has been ignored. In this case, it's own application will defeat its purpose.

Anne says that Facebook should follow the example of SAP and use a group of trusted, responsible users to help figure out next steps. I can attest to that. The SAP Mentors, a group of the people SAP believes are most committed to the healthy growth of the SAP Communities are invited to comment on topics SAP has planned. As a small (sub-100 group) it is relatively easy to manage and allows SAP to maintain a sensible level of transparency. If Facebook attempts this approach, it will have other problems. From where might it draw such a group?  How would it determine the best people who are prepared to offer genuine help?

Quite separate from this. What happens if the conversation Facebook is trying to foster bifurcates between Anne's 139,000 strong group and the one Facebook is trying to build?

More important, how is all this going to get parsed in such a way that its users and business partners are equally satisfied? A question from a Gartner analyst raised this exact point, noting that somewhere or other, legalese has to enter the equation. There were no clear answers to this.

Facebook may be making a brave attempt to re-write the way communities evolve but it is doing so in a juvenile fashion with little regard to the practical or business realities. This is one occasion where it could usefully learn from the stodgy, sometimes boring world of enterprise. Somehow I doubt it will.

Update for image: Image credit: Guhmshoo

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