Social media, dependency and trust

Picture from Rodney Rumford

Up till now I have been watching the Scoble Facebook fight in a half interested kind of way.  For those of you that are new to this Scoble ran a script to pull his friend list and other personal data out of Facebook.  This is a violation of Facebook’s Ts & Cs and they closed down his account.  Paul Walsh over on Segala sums up the two sides of this pretty well, but in summary it was interesting as a skirmish in the long battle to open up social networks, but also had some of the trappings of a media stunt.

Then I read a post from Scoble this morning titled Erased.  You should read the whole post if you want to really feel his passion, but this excerpt gets you most of the way:

Forget for a few minutes about whether or not I was a jerk, stupid, idiotic, or worse for breaking the terms of service of one of your favorite companies…..

…….one thing is still really freaking me out:

I was erased.

Erased so quickly and completely that my friends had no idea what happened.

And not only was I erased, but anyone who wrote on my wall’s data was erased too.

My photos were erased.

My videos were erased.

AND all of YOUR data associated with those were erased.

Reading this it becomes crystal clear that we need to be able to depend on our social networking services.  We even went as far as to legislate for that with previous social services like telephones and snail mail.

As an increasing amount of your personal life and data gets caught up in various web services the thought of them getting taken away gets scary.  That can be professional or personal – if one of your main communication tools gets ripped away from you, and just you, a pang of fear is inevitable – how will I get my next deal? or keep up with industry gossip?  or know where the next party is? etc. etc. (my use of FB is 95% professional so I hope that last piece isn’t wide of the mark, but you get my drift).

Which brings you back to trust.  You have to trust the service provider not to screw up your life.

Which is maybe why people get so upset about mistakes like Beacon, which are, in my opinion at least, at the end of the day relatively small issues.

Facebook describes itself as a utility – but their challenge (and it is the same for Myspace and all the others) is that they provide a service that is so much more complex than our traditional notion of utility.  They offer much more than dial tone, or water.

That complexity puts them in the position of having to make all sorts of difficult choices re violation of rules, use of personal data and also censorship (Andreessen has an interseting post on this re porn and Ning).

And those difficult decisions are bound to get some people pretty hot under the collar given the intimate personal nature of the site.  As per the post from Robert it feels like there is a small portion of people’s lives at stake here.

All of which takes me back to repeating a couple of conclusions I have had before – namely that execution will be extremely tricky and that for the first time in the 200 years of modern industrial history we find ourselves in a situation where customers need to be given a pretty direct influence over strategy.

Tough challenges.  But then the prizes are big.