There are times when I’m staring down at that facebook news feed I can’t help but feel like a bystander. Someone’s cooking dinner. Someone’s watching a movie. Someone’s posted a link to salon.com. Someone’s pregnant. Someone’s broken up. Someone else is howling to heavens at all the “haterz” in the world (seriously, who actually talks like that?).
I see this stuff and I want to know details. I want to know what they thought about the movie, how dinner went, the baby’s name, weight, and gender. But who am I to do that? I haven’t talked some of these people in over 10 years! If I started commenting or liking every status that held my attention, I’d turn into the Gilbert Gottfried of social media. I’d be as ubiquitous as farmville and twice as annoying!
Or would I? Do I get annoyed when someone comments on my status? Do I feel invaded when someone actually wants to know what’s going in my life? I could avoid social media if I really wanted to. We all could. We’re not looking for our 15 minutes of fame here, but I think we all need just a little acknowledgement. Just a little ping to remind us that we exist, and that someone has noticed. For however long that is.
The technology community is making much ado about the personal information land-grab that Facebook orchestrated recently. Basically, information that was formerly protected by your account’s privacy settings was now linked to public pages. This would make it easier for marketers to target users and possibly allow Mark Zuckerberg to finally make a profit. Those who were attracted to Facebook for its privacy features had been officially stabbed in the back.
Is anybody surprised by this development? Facebook has rallied almost half a billion users under service that charged absolutely nothing. Consider to time and money it takes to manage a user base of that size. The interface complaints alone could fill an entire rack server. Clearly, something had to give. Facebook needed money to survive, and that user info was the only way to get it. This leaves us with a question: Can free web software be trusted?
It’s the same trap that foiled many internet start-ups in the 90’s. Computers made the transit and storage of information literally too cheap to meter. It doesn’t make sense charging for a service that you put no effort into providing. Your competitors will just undercut you. However, just because one aspect of your business is plentiful enough to be free, that doesn’t mean the whole thing should be. Websites still need hardware and active management to provide any services at all. Free web software should only be a platform for other paid services that can support the free stuff.
Facebook’s example underlines the need for day-one monetization, if not profitability of any web service. Google, Craigslist, Flickr and Livejournal all have paid components which support stellar free services. There will always be free open source alternatives for the Facebooks of the world, but the time it takes to have software that is easy to use and Just Works™ will always require some kind of cash. So if you have website and you put a price tag on some of its features, don’t think of it as selling out to the man. That money is a symbol of trust and reliance on your expertise. If you can fulfill the promise of that symbol, then the world will beat a path to your door.
If you happen to own your own website, you may have installed google analytics to track your web stats. You might write a kickass post that’s been dugg, retweeted, or otherwise talked about on your favorite social media site and thought to yourself, “I know there’s a spike happening in my traffic, but I want to see it nooooow!”
Well, whine no longer, my friends. It’s Woopra to the rescue!
You do so have TV.
You know who you are, but trust me, you’re not alone. That is why I’m writing.
So you say you don’t have TV?
Then why are you filling me in on Lost, Heroes or Doctor Who?
Those are television shows, of which you would have no knowledge unless you (gasp!) watched TV!
You start to stammer and sweat. A TV? N-no, no I would never let one of THOSE in my house.
Oh really? Then what is this strange device you are reading this post on? Is it capable of transmitting visions over great distances of time and space? Then you have what could be called a television.
Why do we still wear that derisive murmur of “I don’t watch TV” as some kind of intellectual badge of honor? How does being out of touch with one form of media make us smarter? Do we aspire to be like my wife’s English professor who walked into his lecture on September 11, 2001 and asked what was with all the long faces? That means we’ve bought into all those crazy myths our parents told about the “Boob Tube”, that it will make your eyes fall out or turn your imagination to cottage cheese. I know that TV has traditionally been a scary thing. It was a constant stream of lies pumped through colored lights, told by an arcane heirarchy of network executives that sacrifice animals to the FCC during their nightly meetings. To control what went on the TV screen required letter writing campaigns and petitions, most of which went un-noticed. Now that computers and DVRs are here, we seem to be determined to erase that unfortunate point in our media history. Just because we choose which show we want to watch doesn’t mean we get to project this facade of mental purity. Unless you are willing to completely unhook from the whole digital superhighway, call that AVI file or youtube video what it is and has been for the past 50 years. TELEVISION.
A screencap of an actual ad on facebook. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this BS in Religion, but apparently it’s pretty important.