Why Facebook Will Kick Google's Posterior
It's decided. We are no longer fans of brands, or companies, or music groups, or movies. Instead, we like them. So says Facebook, and what Facebook says, goes.
"We would still prefer to have 'fans' not 'likers' -- what do you think?" said some friends on their Facebook page, and the general response is that people prefer fans. But so what?
The difference between fans and likers is perhaps negligible, and certainly not worth getting worked up over. But when Facebook made everyone's personal details public by default, making it nearly impossible to reverse, we reacted in almost exactly the same way: "Oh, well, that sort of peeves me off... what's for dinner?"
What's behind our inability to stay mad at Facebook? Regular readers of this column may recall a story I wrote last year about my father and the power of habit. In it, I made the point that our Google habit is so ingrained that, by the time we even think to use a different search engine, we're already staring at blue links.
That's a pretty strong habit. But Facebook's hold on us is infinitely stronger than that. Google has said over and over again that competition is only a click away, and it's true -- other search engines will still give us plenty of viable results. But Facebook effectively has no competition. Even if we remember to try a different social network, there's no point. The whole purpose of a social network is to be social, and if nobody's there, there's no social.
Our memories of Facebook's behavioral violations are like goldfish, and they have to be: it's a self-protective mechanism. The simple truth is that, as individuals, we're stuck there. At this point, Zuckerberg's cyborg doesn't win on features. It wins because the primary reason we go there is to connect with everyone else who's there; as long as everyone else is there, that's where we're going to go.
This may seem like an obvious point, but it's critical. No matter how mad they make us, they are effectively holding all our friends and loved ones hostage. It's a voluntary form of hostage, to be sure, but everyone would have to make their escape at the same time in order to overcome it.
And you'd better believe the folks at the head office know this. There's no other way to explain their "ask forgiveness, not permission" approach to new privacy settings, with the launch of open graph repeating many of Beacon's transgressions. As my MediaPost colleague Wendy Davis wrote yesterday, "Facebook has made the maddening decision to require users to opt out four separate times. First, users must visit their Facebook settings and uncheck the allow-personalization box. Next, users who want to prevent the sharing of their information by friends, must visit another section of Facebook's settings and block Microsoft Docs, Pandora and Yelp separately.
Presumably as Facebook adds new partners, users will have to revisit their settings and opt out yet again."
It's insane to think we'll put up with this, but we will. Facebook's combined the habitual power of Google with the gravitational force of everyone we know. The only thing that would change their behavior is the thing least likely to happen: that enough intrepid souls populate another social network to create a viable competitor.
Can you see Facebook being undone anytime soon? Do you think there will be a price to pay for its cavalier approach to privacy? Let me know in the comments or via @kcolbin.