The Facebook Privacy Backlash


If you haven’t heard, there have been rumblings as of late amongst a lot of geeks calling for an alternative to Facebook, the popular social networking site that boasts a user base larger than the U.S. population.

In fact, such calls for a social media revolution to upend Facebook are far from new (see a great piece on for a summary of the situation).

But now, a few well-funded alternatives are gaining momentum, and the related Facebook complaints on privacy, control and advertising are starting to stick in the mainstream.

So what does it all mean? What about my social media strategy? Do I can cancel my Facebook account? What’s next?

For right now, here’s what you need to know about Facebook for the near future:

1. Facebook Isn’t Going Anywhere (Soon)

At least for right now, Facebook isn’t going anywhere.

One of the biggest complaints about Facebook is that when you give it information (your photos, your updates, your wall posts, etc.), you no longer control that information. You can’t export it from Facebook and plug it in the next big social networking site.

But that has been Facebook’s game plan all along, and the reason why, at least for the short term, they’ll be around. If you invested 30 minutes of your life creating that photo album about your trip to Dollyland – you’re not going to walk away from Facebook that easily.

In fact, one of the leaders of the emerging Facebook alternatives has said the critical element of his service, called Diaspora, is that it will be able to communicate with Facebook. That way, users can defect slowly and Diaspora won’t suffer from what I call the “empty airplane hangar effect,” where there’s a lot of cool stuff but no one else to share it with.

2. The Next ‘Big’ Thing May Not Be That Big

When the geeks say they want to create an ‘open’ alternative to Facebook, what they’re saying is that they don’t want to control your information. They want to create an open framework in which you can connect with friends, share news, upload photos and, more generally, do all of the wonderful things you do on Facebook, without being locked into one website.

The goal is to be able to share information and form connections on the web more seamlessly.

So, in that sense, the next ‘big’ movement in social media, won’t be one entity or one option. It’ll be a fragmented landscape of properties across which sharing will be more fluid.

3. The Geeks Are Right

Finally, in the long term, the geeks are right.

Much like the internet itself, a system of open protocols that no one entity controls, ‘social media’ is trending toward open sharing as well.

One of the core principles of product development at another internet giant, Google, is that open systems beat closed ones over time. If I can create a photo album and share it with people across the internet with or without a Facebook profile, and control who can view it, I will. Right now there isn’t a great alternative to Facebook, so I don’t.

But there will be. And the open system upon which it is based will win.

4. Join Facebook Now

And so my advice, as contrary as it may sound, is to get on Facebook now – as soon as you can.

Since the geeks are right, social media is going to get a big boost. In fact, much like we don’t consider landline telephones ’emerging technology,’ I think social media will be so integrated into our daily use of the web that we won’t even use that term any more.

The geeks think that all media should be social, so you’d better start figuring out Facebook now so that you’re prepared to make the even bigger leap next.