More On Facebook: Can A Network Be Too Social?

When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. acquired last summer, predictions that the new owners would muck with the social network flew fast and furious. Instead, with the exception of a few missteps like excluding YouTube, News Corp. has managed to keep the MySpace aura largely intact even while expanding commercially. That’s been accomplished, in part, by realizing the users have the power to leave whenever they feel like it’s no longer their space.
Which brings us to Facebook, the social network facing an internal uproar over efforts to make the site more powerful for its users. On the theory that once people add friends to their network, they don’t mind sharing information with them, Facebook turned on a feature that shows what Rex Hammock accurately describes as a “river of news” showing all of the activity within circles of friends. What seemed ok to post within the confines of a profile that friends can see suddenly looked different when it could all be seen at once. A friend of mine who uses Facebook enough to note her move to a new city and her new job immediately in her profile wrote me: “saw the features HATE HATE them. It actually makes me pretty uncomfortable – I wonder what Mark was thinking.” While some users like the features a great deal, others are disturbed enough to organize protests and threaten mass migration or, almost as bad, static profiles with no updates. One anti-feed Facebook group — Students against Facebook News Feed — has more than 500,000 members already, a hefty number for a network with 9 million subscribers. The result is a glaring spotlight on the flaws of social media as a revenue stream. Not a happy place for a company that just raised $25 million in funding.
One of our readers (Gertrude) picked up on this in a comment on our earlier post: “This big mistake just told any potential acquirer that Facebook (or any social network for that matter), no matter how apparently dominant, is not entrenched enough to be immune from a mass migration. It also shows that the community is in control. Facebook might own the site, but it’s the users that are really in the driver’s seat. So any ideas Facebook or an acquirer get about what needs to be done to the site to ‘improve’ or monetize it may not be viable options in the real world.”
WSJ: “We didn’t expect so much negative feedback,” Facebook spokeswoman Melanie Deitch said yesterday. … “Facebook held an emergency meeting yesterday to plan its response to the backlash. Ms. Deitch said that the new features are “here to stay” but that staffers are discussing possible tweaks to appease users. She wouldn’t say what those changes might be.”