Saturday, February 28, 2009


It's becoming more evident to me that people that run companies, businesses, etc., think that the public in general is absolutely clueless. There's something to be said about a false sense of empowerment which your potential audience, customer base, whatever, embraces like it's their long lost, rich, and about to die uncle. I blame the Internet, mainly because it's the easiest, but also because it's the most likely in this case.

Let's take Facebook for a moment, shall we? Take it and do whatever you want with it, by the way. I find the whole social networking thing not so much "necessary" as it is "expected" and I really don't do well with expectations of me. But really I don't see the overall appeal of being a constant voyeur into other people's mundane existence. Yes, mundane! Try as you might, I do not think that you're cool when you're doing whatever it is that you're doing and I'm not. There's a reason I'm not doing what you are and you might want to look at what you're doing just a little closer to understand why I'm not doing it.

But I digress. Back to Facebook. Last week, Facebook changed their Terms of Service in a way that basically said that you're granting rights to Facebook to do whatever they want with whatever you put on Facebook and that you're granting them those rights even if you terminate your account. Sound good? No, of course not, it sounds like crap.

The Consumerist was where the crap originally hit the fan with this dealio. After all, who reads the Terms of Service? (OK, fine, I read them. I like fine print! I find it comical and in this case, informative.) When folks got wind of the new TOS, it was the Boston Tea Party all over again, except that it was online and there wasn't any tea and it wasn't in Boston. (It's just an easy metaphor for revolt, all right?) And the next thing you know, Facebook caved. Or did they?

Facebook reinstated the original TOS after CEO Mark Zuckerberg (who looks like he's 12 and actually isn't much older than that) posted a response on the Facebook blog that essentially said, "Whoa! Baby! Calm down! I wasn't saying you looked fat! I was just looking out for you! I didn't want you to be uncomfortable, they...always have the heat turned up really high! And um, that outfit would have...uh, made you really hot! Not sweaty hot! I didn't mean to say 'sweat like a pig'. I was just trying to take care of you, baby. Now go put that tent, I mean dress! Go put that dress back on and let's go already."

As if Facebook folks weren't pretentious enough with their false sense of empowerment, now they're really full of themselves. "Look what our big, bad revolt did! We told Facebook where to go and what to do! We really do own Facebook!" Oh, please. Facebook plays nice with it's users, I'll give it that. Whether or not they were really trying to retain control over everything that was ever uploaded to their site, I have no idea. But they've seized an opportunity to reinforce that false sense of empowerment that the Facebook community is rolling around in right now. And they're doing so in a way that implies fairness. Sort of.

Their new policy is this: Some changes and some new policies will be put to a vote by Facebook users. According to Facebook, "The results of the vote will be made public and will be binding, if more than 30 percent of all active registered users vote." Well, that sounds great doesn't it? After all, when the uproar over the TOS began, the Facebook group "People Against the New Terms of Service" immediately formed and over 139,000 people joined up! Power to the FB people! Not so fast, FB-ers.Facebook has 175 million active registered users. That means that 52,500,000 "active registered users" need to vote. So, it sounds like the "People Against the New Terms of Service" group is going to fall just about 52,361,000 votes short as it is. Hmmm. Power to the people! Wait. What?

Facebook could have even gone with 10 percent of all "active registered users" needing to cast a vote before something was binding and they still (most likely) would have been just fine doing whatever they wanted to do. Numbers are a funny thing, aren't they? 139,000 people sounds like a really big number, but only until you realize that you don't need hundreds of thousands of people, but tens of millions of people. That's when that 139,000 seems like the total attendance at your Mom's book club meeting last week.

And not everything will be left up to the FB-users to vote on. In his blog post, Zuckerberg wrote that some things will change whether FB users like it or not. Those in management at Facebook are still the ones running the company. FB-ers can think that they are going to have this massive amount of say in what goes on, but if Facebook wants to change something, they will.

If I'm looking at the numbers that we're talking about in this instance, it makes me tend to think that the vastness of the Internet isn't something that you can just assume everyone is touched by. It's like if you only hang out with people who play Guitar Hero (and who wouldn't want a group of friends like that!? Hey, I'd take just ONE person at this point!), you're going to get the impression after a while that everyone plays Guitar Hero. I think that a lot of these Facebook folks think that everyone's world revolves around Facebook just like theirs does. Not so much. But what happens is that those who do think that everyone's world is the Facebook world start to influence other people to believe the same way. That's why people are so shocked when they come across someone who is not in the FB world. (On Facebook, it's FB. People tend to FB a lot of things. My favorite? "Keep in FB touch." Translation: "For God's sake, don't ever call me or email me. I really don't know you very well and I'm not sure I even like you. But drop me a note on Facebook once or twice a year just so I can compare my life to yours and feel superior. FB bye!")

If they meet someone without an FB life, this look which is a cross of confusion, sadness and pity sweeps across their face as if to say, "Aw. Why not? Too poor for an Internet connection? Can't afford a computer? Too dumb to log on? No friends? Social outcast? Is that why no FB for you?" They could not comprehend the rationale of "No, I think it's stupid." They would FB die if they heard that!

The point is that Facebook sort of pulled an FB FU to all of these folks who freaked out. (By the way, I'm not so sure that I'm in favor of a company or a business just arbitrarily being able to change the TOS whenever they want to. I don't think it mentions they retain the right to do that in the original TOS that people had to agree to in order to join Facebook.) I'm dying for Facebook to put the TOS that everyone flipped out over up for the vote. In fact, I'm begging them to do it! I'd be really interested to see if 52 million people would give a crap about it enough to log on and vote. Heck, I'd be shocked if 5 million people would give a crap about it enough to log on and vote.

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