So is this the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end for Facebook?
Tom Hodgkinson's article in today's Guardian is a fantastic piece of journalism. It's a sign of the times that a story about somebody not wanting to participate in Facebook gets given such prominence in one of the UK's (world's?) best papers, and then gets commented on by many of the blogging A-list.
Accorging to Hugh Mcleod (@gapingvoid), "Wow. Best anti-Facebook article I've ever read".
Others are less excited about it, but it does expose the financial philosophy of the original funders in amongst the more recent discussions (see Scobleizer et al) about privacy. And the quality of writing (and perspective) is perhaps exactly what we should expect from the founding editor of The Idler, one of the best magazines to come of out of London in the 1990s.
But that doesn't mean he's right. For many people (including his friends quoted) Facebook has a very real and very social function. Yes, "it" knows a lot about you, but most people these days are remarkably happy to give bits of their personality away as corporate hoardings - Facebook, and even Beacon, is just an extension of that. Wearing branded T-shirts, football scarves or other badges of identity and conformity, is a way of life for many people. But probably not for avid fans/editors of the Idler.
The more interesting questions to ask are:
- When will most people realise quite how much of their own personal info they've volunteered to be siphoned off to (essentially) advertisers
- How much is too much - both on a personal and on a general basis, and then
- How will they react - will they even care?
I think there is a significiant gap between how people currently think it is being used (if they even give it a thought) and how it is actually being used. But, with adequate controls in place - such as opting in, rather than opting out, I reckon most people really won't mind that some aspects of their life which they've chosen to publicise will be used by brands to try and tailor new products or experiences for them.
For me, one of the most interesting things about Facebook to date has not been it's ability to capture data (though the way Beacon was introduced was a great example of how to alienate your users) it's actually been it's meteoric rise to near ubiquity. Strikes me as a great example of Mark Earl's Herd theory in practice.
It's not going to disappear as fast, though I'd expect to see the backlash to gather pace soon. Facebook will inevitably fall from grace among the chattering classes, who have had their fun dabbling with it but since their 81st Zombie invitation have got a bit bored. But until something better and more fashionable comes along (OpenSocial on any platform anyone?) Facebook - even a Facebook mostly-owned by billionaire Neo-cons, will continue to be the communications medium of choice for millions of people worldwide.
It's a shame that Tom Hogkinson will be missing out - but hey, that's entirely up to him. I guess he won't be participating in the Facbook Groups he could have a bit of fun with including The Idler, and won't be chatting to his old muckers via The Idler Contributors past and Present group.
Now... I'm off to see what he says about himself on Linkedin. And ask him if he knows who might have spray-painted this?