I was an early adopter of Facebook, so I have more friends than most people my age. Facebook friends that is. Thats because when Facebook first started, only a very few people in your peer group had an account, so you were less choosy about who you friended. I think up till now a large number of FB friends has been a relative asset for me. Similar to Danah Boyd’s take that “radical transparency” has been something she has benefited from by choice – my relatively public persona has provided visibility that makes it easier for me to earn a living via personal earned media.
One of the ways we differentiated Flux – a white label social media toolset for brands where I worked for 2 years – from Facebook was that we were encouraging less private social media activity in order to increase interaction with content (video, photos, games) via a streamlined set of business rules. Simply put, you knew you were building a profile on MTV.com or Souljaboy.com in order to behave in a public manner, there was no expectation of privacy. We weren’t trying to help you invite people to a party at your house, or share photos of your children with your cousin. Based on the implicit privacy contract we though FB was making with its users, we assumed that FB had too much overhead infrastructure to be the underlying social technology for content companies. Bravo Facebook, you got there, it just took you a few years to catch up…
An analogy is the collapse subscription music business v 1.0. It wasn’t the lack of market demand that killed the first generation of subscription music products, it was the unnecessary technical overhead created by DRM requirements. Enforcing strict digital rights imposes performance costs, technology costs, and bad user experiences even if the DRM software is license-free (see MSFT VIsta). Now that a lighter level of subscription DRM is available, Pandora and other other alternatives are becoming profitable.
Because Facebook is pursuing an ad supported model, it is moving its implicit privacy contract to the less private side of the spectrum. This encourages more interaction with content, which is what Facebook is ultimately are selling. It also will reduce their technology costs over time since DRM is hard. In hindsight its the obvious move, and nobody should be surprised. Some people like Umair Haque call this “evil”, but strategically its the way to capture the most market capitalization right now, so those business ethics are pretty straightforward. The brands are going to come running with buckets of cash, that is for sure.
The result of this math is that you are more valuable to Facebook as a user the more 1) you interact with content (by liking etc.), and 2) the more friends you have. Because of the friends of friends (see Danah Boyd’s post for an explanation) there is an exponential effect. And your resulting privacy diminishes inversely. The equations are something like:
(Facebook NPV) (user) = b X (FB activity) X (Number of friends (user))2
Privacy you = 1/FB NPV (you)
where b is a coefficient that reflects your account privacy settings
What are the implications of his math? The more FB friends you have, the less privacy you have. Probably squared if you haven’t adjusted your privacy settings. While this may seem obvious and is the reason I reject more “friend” requests than I accept now, it wasn’t as obvious 5 years ago when I started using FB. Fact of the matter is that a lot of my FB friends aren’t really friends, they are just people I knew back when we were both early adopters.
I’m not ready to leave FB altogether, it does provide value both personally and professionally. So I just went through and did a high level culling of my FB friend list and “unfriended” 20 people. (This is really tedious to do). Especially high on the list for elimination are casual friends with 1000s of friends. Their low value “networks” are (were!) really just privacy sinks for me. If you are one of them – nothing personal, it’s Zuckerberg’s fault!!