The Future History of Facebook

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – The legacy of Facebook may be darker than many would first suspect. While Facebook upsets users from time to time, mostly with cosmetic and functional interface changes, the users keep coming back, unwilling to leave their social networks. And those social networks are large, often numbering in the hundreds and including family, friends, coworkers, old flames and sweethearts. Added to that number are all the products and services that people “like” creating a virtual dossier of information on the user. 

And that’s the catch.

You see, Facebook’s users are more than users, they’re the company’s product. Each profile contains dozens of bits of information defining each user as a consumer with particular likes and interests. Based on this, Facebook sells user profiles to advertisers who pay premium fees to place their ads before their most likely customers. Even status updates are quietly gleaned for information. 

Want to test it out? Put a couple of status updates about dogs in your newsfeed. Then watch dogs appearing in the ads on the side of your pages and in other activity. 

And while Facebook has always been “free” to use, (and always will be according to the website’s tag line on the login page) it’s not free at all. After all, the only thing that’s ever free is the cheese in the mouse trap. 

What is Facebook costing users? Their privacy. 

Most users are aware, at least on some level, that Facebook costs something in terms of privacy. Naturally, friends and neighbors can potentially view anything posted on the site. And Facebook has a privacy policy where they explain how user data is aggregated and shared with others.

However, it is this aggregation and sharing, coupled with mass adoption, that will make Facebook the stuff of infamy in years to come. 

Someday, when Facebook has evolved past all recognition (or gone extinct), historians will look back on the service as the icon that finally eliminated the last vestiges of consumer privacy.

Facebook certainly isn’t the first to profile users and aggregate data for profit. However, they are by far the largest in history. Additionally, an entire generation of consumers is now painfully aware that in the world of business, your profile is a coveted commodity. 

New polls taken ahead of Facebook’s imminent IPO show that the public does not trust Facebook and they feel the social networking giant is overvalued and overrated. The cynicism runs deep and grows with age. An Associated Press – CNBC poll found that while 59 percent of adults under 35 think the IPO is a good buy, only 39 percent of senior citizens feel the same. 

Also, 46 percent of those same participants feel Facebook is a passing fad. 

This naturally flies in the face of the very real statistic that Facebook now accounts for more than 14 percent of all internet use, according to comScore.

Still the naysayers have history on their side. Geocities, Friendster, MySpace, have all gone the way of the dodo after quick rises to the top. Today, Facebook faces challenges from Google+ and Pintrest, among others. Also, the great marketplace of ideas – the web itself, is changing. The internet is now giving way to mobile and websites are feeling the pinch. Mobile applications, not websites are all the rage today. Facebook evolved as a website and was a relative latecomer to mobile. And last week, Google+ unveiled a new look that’s very visual in its appeal and designed to offer users an experience much different from the vaunted Facebook. 

In any case, Facebook has all the hallmarks of a fad, and the public is fickle. Just like tulip mania in  Holland (1636-1637), a new wave of “Facebook mania” may wash over Wall Street. However, in its wake may be a jaded public, disaffected investors, and the cold judgment of history. Investors may find Facebook lovable, but something tells me that history will have a different view.

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Marshall Connolly is a contributor to Catholic Online with a degree in history and a background in marketing and business. 

2012, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM. 

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