Dear Facebook; Our Relationship With You Is Not A Given.

At The Crunchies Friday night I was only mildly interested in what Mark Zuckerberg had to say until he stated rather matter-of-factly that Facebook's privacy policy was changed because "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time. We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are." I couldn't believe my ears. This is clearly the Facebook company line that from this point forward will be parroted to all who will listen to justify their dramatic reversal in corporate philosophy relative to user privacy.

Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb wrote a great piece yesterday highlighting Mark's statements at The Crunchies and says quite credibly; "That's Not a Believable Explanation .... I don't buy Zuckerberg's argument that Facebook is now only reflecting the changes that society is undergoing. I think Facebook itself is a major agent of social change and by acting otherwise Zuckerberg is being arrogant and condescending."

Facebook is changing it's policy for one reason only: They've concluded the only way to monetize their user base in numbers that will be acceptable to their current, and more importantly, future IPO investors is to expose as much user activity to data mining and advertising (search, display, & PPA) as possible. Period. And by the way, we know you need to make money, and we're cool with that. Some of us are willing to pay a subscription fee if necessary to quarantine ourselves from most of that, and the rest of us would be willing to be bombarded with whatever targeted ads you want to throw at us. But don't piss on us and tell us it's raining. We can see through this "we're only doing this because that's what you want" charade, which is both disingenuous and poorly executed.

Yes, Facebook has a millions of users. And No, many will not leave. But without some meaningful attitude adjustment Facebook risks the real possibility that users will reduce their on-site activity to levels that will render them nearly impossible to monetize. As I mentioned in my previous post, there is already ample evidence to suggest that both new user growth and existing user activity have slowed over the past six months. The pressure to perform financially in advance of their widely expected IPO is increasing, and it's starting to show in both Facebook's words and actions. And none of it is good news for Facebook users.

It's sad the way Facebook has compromised the privacy principles they trumpeted in their earlier days. And they can say whatever they want, but the fact is that they're not "reflecting current social norms". Yes, we are becoming more comfortable exposing certain parts of our lives online. For example, we're more comfortable sharing things on Twitter because we know the rules upfront - you post, it's public. But Facebook promised us a certain level of privacy, that's the social contract that we signed. We shouldn't have to run through an incomprehensible maze to re-establish the privacy we were promised in the first place.

So stop insulting our intelligence by telling us that you're only giving us what we want. It's NOT what we want, but we know it's what you desperately need. So how about a little respect? Because our continued relationship with you is not a given.

Facebook's Fail Tale

Jason Calacanis posted a good piece yesterday on Facebook's recent privacy snafu (Is Facebook unethical, clueless or unlucky?). I'll begin with a few of my favorite excerpts:

"Facebook proved again this week that they are either the most unethical or clueless internet company in the world."

".. they screw up on important issues almost as if it's a "best practice" to do so".

"So why is Facebook trying to trick their users? Simple: search results. Facebook is trying to dupe hundreds of millions of users they’ve spent years attracting into exposing their data for Facebook’s personal gain: pageviews. Yes, Facebook is tricking us into exposing all our items so that those personal items get indexed in search engines–including Facebook’s–in order to drive more traffic to Facebook."

And Chris Sacca had this to say on Twitter: "Each time Facebook makes an ugly privacy move, it not only betrays users, but the rest of the Valley has a field day recruiting engineers." That viewpoint was driven home later that night in Palo Alto when two former Facebook engineers told me that several more engineers are leaving Facebook. The reason? They're losing confidence in Zuckerberg. And most importantly for them, at the rate things are going they don't think their options are going to be worth much if anything by the time the company does it's IPO. Best to get out now while the gettin's good.

The pressures to increase revenues prior to filing an IPO are intense and the only way that Facebook knows how to do that is to put the pedal to the metal with ads, directly or through search. But the execution of this latest "reverse privacy" strategy through brut force has backfired, and their attempts to reactivate dormant user accounts by prominently suggesting that users "reconnect" with these dormant users hasn't fared much better. Face it, both new user growth and existing user activity have slowed over the past six months. In the face of this they're forced to increase revenue in preparation for an IPO sometime in 2010. They're in an operational vise and they don't have many levers left to pull.

The cumulative effect of a year's worth of continual management missteps is reaching critical mass. If Facebook engineers are losing faith, then potential IPO investors aren't going to be far behind. So unless Mark can right his ship within the next couple quarters I think the chances of him retaining his title as CEO as the company prepares to go public are somewhere between slim and none. Facebook is on a very slippery slope at the moment. It's time to bring in some experienced leadership at the top.

Tribes are what matter, and Twitter is the perfect place to find your Tribe

I've watched this talk from Seth Godin at least 10 times over the past few months. And every time I watch it I think about Twitter, and the incredible power that it provides to anyone on the planet to start, join or expand a Tribe they're passionate about. Take a few minutes and watch this video, and think about what's possible. @socialmedia411 is a small example. The untapped opportuntities out there for you and/or your organization are enormous.

Seth Godin on the Tribes We Lead

There's a lot more great TED talks at