Over the next few weeks, our digital lives will change forever. I’m not really sure how much it matters and fighting Facebook’s most recent mandatory update is a futile pursuit. But I have some thoughts on Timeline and the impending IPO that seem like they’re worth sharing.
In case you’re not interested in the business of technology (which is more than OK), two pretty important things are taking place at FB HQ. The first is a compulsory update that moves user profiles from the ubiquitous wall format, which first appeared in chat rooms and discussion boards at the end of the 20th Century, to a Timeline. The second, the IPO, is about showing profitability.
Yesterday I voluntarily upgraded to the new Timeline and at first I was impressed. The general aesthetics are appealing and my profile is easy to navigate, as any web application should. Timeline gives a clear indication of what I’ve been doing since joining the social network on Oct. 24, 2007, which is appealing to advertisers who can now better qualify campaigns over time.
As a marketing guy, targeted ads and data sharing has never really bothered me that much. For me the line between invasion of privacy and focused, appealing content is often an argument of semantics and/or hyperbole. If somebody wanted my information badly enough, he or she could get it without the Internet’s help. My arguments: 1) For most of us, our lives are not that interesting to suppose our every action is being watched; 2) data mostly isn’t collected about me specifically, my data is added to other user data to create comparatives measurements.
So while the biggest complaints around the Internet are that the change unnecessarily imposes questionable security measures leaning toward data collection for the sake of maximizing advertising revenue, I understand Facebook is a business. Its assets are data collected from 800 million voluntary users and making changes to its interface is a calculated business risk. Some people will obviously reject the change and go dark (not deleting an account, but not using it either), but do you need one-ninth the population of the planet to make wise advertising decisions? I'm no statistician, but the answer to that question is a resounding "No." And even if the attrition rate is 50 percent, one would imagine 400,000 active users are far less costly to manage. Also the folks who stick it out and accept Timeline are move valuable to advertisers because they have elected to maintain their loyalty to Facebook and, presumably the advertisers who pay for it. So maybe Facebook is Mitting users, and Timeline is a culling of dead wood to increase profitability. It’s all very clear now. Increasing profitability is more beneficial than a stagnant pool of user data and as Facebook moves toward its IPO, it wants unprofitable users to depart. It looks good for the bottom line, which makes investors open crusty pocket books. It’s all about the money. If an economist cares to comment, go nuts.
Back to Timeline. After a day of contemplation, I will likely let my Facebook presence go dark(er), not because I’m afraid of the information people have collected, but because the new Timeline is not the conversation I signed up for all those years ago. USA today calls the old profile “Before Facebook,” which you can make your own options about, but Before Facebook allowed us to follow friends in a conversation. In the first part of the 21st Century, branding 101 courses and marketing bloggers around the globe have modeled the marketing discourse around creating a conversation with constituents, so I’m inclined to believe it’s now an essential component of modern marketing. Timeline fails to share a conversation, it’s a brochure about me, which ultimately will drive users away because, again, I'm not that interesting. When there’s no conversation, content gets dry. When content is dry, people move on. I’m not one to make predictions, but I think Timeline is the beginning of the end of Facebook for that reason alone. At least some people will get enormously wealthy in the process.