As a public service message, I’d like to begin this post by stating unequivocally that Facebook is not going to begin charging users. Really. It’s not. As far as I know. But that doesn’t stop Facebookers from cranking up the paid-membership rumor mill every time Facebook makes a significant change to the service, including recent introductions like:
- The new profile Timeline - a sort of “ghost of Facebook past/This is Your Life” breakdown of your digital - and in some cases real life – history
- The Twitter-inspired, newly introduced “Ticker” that displays a live and fairly public feed of the current activity of you and your friends
- The “Lists” tool harvested from the well-received “Circles” of Google Plus that allows you to shuffle your friends into clusters and manually determine who sees your posts, and filter the content you see from your friends
In fact, Facebook users’ fear of it becoming a paid service is topped only by their extreme angst after every new change. Said discomfort expressed, naturally, ON Facebook, along with threats to abandon the platform, though that never seems to happen ...
On one level, I understand the users’ discomfort with its changing form. We’re creatures of habit, and once we’re comfortable with a new tool, we don’t enjoy relearning how to use it. More worth worrying about, though, is the uncomfortable truth underlying all of the tinkering: Facebook doesn’t really care about what its users prefer. After all, as Robert Shrimsley succinctly states in his uber-smart article for FT Magazine, we’re not the customers of Facebook. We aren’t even the stakeholders. We’re the product. And “... the meat on sale in a supermarket does not get to decide how it is eaten.” Facebook needs to please its advertisers not us.
So here’s a thought: What if we stop worrying about a Facebook membership fee and welcome it instead? Then we’d be the customers not the advertisers. Think about it. If kicking in a few bucks a month would give us some amount of ownership and the ability to affect (or prevent) disconcerting and inconvenient change, wouldn’t it be worth it? Privacy options would have to be streamlined to meet user expectations, and brand evolution would be informed, at least in part, by the new stakeholders: us! Problem, meet solution. Is it that simple?