Facebook on buy in and validation

by wonderfullyrich on March 31, 2009

This is an interesting excerpt from the New York Times as it’s related to empowering a community, it’s challenges, and how they’ve managed to channel the empowerment constructively in spite of the fact that they aren’t acting on it. I found it remarkable that they have bought in and validated their consumers in a way that makes them useful stakeholders. What makes this remarkable is that a huge portion of companies can’t do this internally with their employees, let alone externally with customers. They’ve changed the user from being fodder to being an ally, and are learning to listen to that ally or more importantly make the ally feel heard.

I would venture to guess that it’s also significant in that this sort of brand ownership and recognition is something that coca-cola has spent billions on to date and facebook has inherently (different mediums, different products, etc, but still an amazing feat).

The simmering conflict over the design change speaks to the challenges of pleasing 200 million users, many of whom feel pride of ownership because they helped to build the site with free labor and very personal contributions.

“They have a strange problem,” says S. Shyam Sundar, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University, of Facebook’s quandary. “This is a technology that has inherently generated community, and it has gotten to the point where members of that community feel not only vested but empowered to challenge the company.”

Those tensions boiled up previously, when Facebook announced the intrusive Beacon advertising system in 2007, and again when Facebook introduced new service terms earlier this year, which appeared to give the company broad commercial control over the content people uploaded to the site.

Facebook responded to protests over the second move by promising users a vote in how the site would be governed.

But while Facebook is willing to give users a voice, it doesn’t necessarily want to listen.

Users are widely opposed to terms that grant Facebook the right to license, copy and disseminate members’ content worldwide. But Facebook says it has to ignore those objections to protect itself against lawsuits from users who might blame the company if they later regret having shared some piece of information with their friends. (Other Web sites have similar stipulations.)

While Facebook addressed the feedback on its unpopular design changes last week — partly by saying it would give users more control over the stream of updates that appear on their pages — it also said members’ pages would soon become even busier and more dynamic, updating automatically instead of requiring users to refresh their browsers to see new posts.

That’s a change that may irk users like Ms. Rabban, who don’t like how busy their pages have become. Facebook executives counter that it will help users share more information, and that they will eventually come to appreciate it, just as they have with previous changes that were initially jarring.
“It’s not a democracy,” Mr. Cox says of his company’s relationship with users. “We are here to build an Internet medium for communicating and we think we have enough perspective to do that and be caretakers of that vision.”

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