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Facebook May Be Giving Up Some Ground — But It Isn't Abdicating

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How do you mesh transparency with grand ambition, an unwieldy community of more than 175 million — and the need to make money? Very, very carefully. Despite the giddy responses of some who think Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg are inviting users to write its Principles and terms of service (now being called the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities), the social net didn’t set up a DIY wiki.

It established town halls for discussion and promised to listen, but retains the right to accept or reject suggested changes with one exception: under certain circumstances, users can vote something up or down. Those circumstances: if more than 7,000 users have to comment on the proposed change, Facebook said, “we will also give you the opportunity to participate in a vote in which you will be provided alternatives. The vote shall be binding on us if more than 30 percent of all active registered users as of the date of the notice vote.” The social net also retains the right to make some changes without a chance to comment.

But Facebook, which has had several major missteps when it comes to implementing new products and rules, appears to have learned one thing: the chance to comment before changes are implemented can make a big difference when it comes to acceptance.

During an unusual press conference by phone Thursday, Zuckerberg said upfront he didn’t want to talk about products but about policy, the “foundation for the things we’re going to build.” But he also said repeatedly that more product changes are coming over the next few weeks and some are important. He also said: “This is all about trusting our users.”

And for users, this is about trusting Facebook. That’s what keeps people involved, which, in turn, is what gives the social network its real value. How the company follows through over the next 30 days and what it comes up with as a result will set the tone at a new pitch — and this time, it needs to be one everyone can hear.