Facebook and the Nature of Power Struggles in Social Networking

Robert may well be right in his analysis but his comment about Facebook always pissing off its users reveals another dimension to this current kerfuffle, who really owns Facebook?

Before we get deeper into this, remember that Facebook has always pissed off its users. First, you’ve gotta realize that in Facebook’s life it will go through at least seven phases. We are moving from phase four to phase five right now. In each phase change people have gotten pissed off.

[From Scobleizer: Technology, innovation, and geek enthusiasm » Blog Archive Why Facebook has never listened and why it definitely won’t start now «]

From the moment that social networks achieved critical mass there has been an uneasy conflict between users and the sponsoring company over ownership. Clearly Facebook owns the intellectual property that is Facebook but without all the user contributed content it would be quite meaningless, therefore the user community believes quite passionately that they are not subservient to the company in this regard and from time to time there erupts an insurrection.

Whether it be over data security and privacy, content controls, third party service integration, or user experience, all of those prior incidents point to a struggle between two groups that are more equal and co-dependent than either realize.

What the user community doesn’t accept is the notion that the only rights they have are those granted by the company underwriting the platform. It’s not a democracy and there is no Bill of Rights that a separate “judicial branch” will interpret and enforce. Users want a voice that has the power to override what the company believes will be strategic decision setting with profit and long term growth at its core.

For their part, the companies behind these networks seem oblivious to the fact that the very social connectedness they are enabling provides the user community with a lot more leverage than companies are used to dealing with. What starts as individual complaints can quickly snowball into large public protests that effectively suck all of oxygen out of the message cycle and take control of the message away from the company.

In the end this will all go away like previous protests because each individual user has far more invested in their Facebook experience than Facebook the company has invested in them. It goes against every grain of my belief system to suggest that the individual user doesn’t matter but it’s likely true here as it has been in the past and it will be so until Facebook crosses some undetermined and unpredictable threshold that constitutes a tipping point that drives users to a compelling competitive option.