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How Facebook borders on Hunger Games

Image Credit:  Screenshot of Google Image Search

Image Credit: Screenshot of Google Image Search

by Frank Strong

Facebook is experimenting with additional ways to monetize its platform and it’s doing so to signal to Wall Street – in advance of its IPO – that the company is serious about making money.

Last week reports emerged that Facebook is testing a plan to let users pay about two bucks to have their posts rank higher in your feed. This comes at a time that Facebook has been meddling with the newsfeeds, using algorithms of sorts, that are likened to Google’s PageRank, in an effort to show users what Facebook thinks you want to see.

At the same time, as the WSJ this Morning podcast reported last week, businesses are experimenting with methods to give social media power users discounts to recommend deals. For example, a juice maker will take a tiered approach to urging users to share a deal.  If they offer a coupon for 10% off for their product, and a power user gets 5 of their friends to share that power user would get 20% off.  The more shares the better the deal for the originator.

Put two and two together and you can see the problem. There’s a monetary incentive here for someone to plan to pay Facebook to rank their shares higher in the hopes of getting discounts. Fundamentally, it’s the difference between sharing a good deal because it’s a good deal (that’s called viral) and sharing a deal because you’re benefiting from it (that’s called manipulation).

Sure, I could un-friend or un-follow people that do this – but then the social network will become a medium that separates friends, rather than bring friends together.  Mama always said, “Don’t lend money to friends,” and this is prime example of her wisdom.  This is the beginning of the Hunger Gamification of social media:  it will put friends at odds over money.

I guess it’s true:  you can’t make so many friends without making a few enemies.

My newsfeed on Facebook does not need an algorithm.  Like most people, I’m perfectly capable of choosing who I’d like to follow and what content I want to see; and preferably in chronological order.  Timeline, for example, is a disaster.  In my opinion, it’s hard to read and follow for both users and fan page administrators alike.  I don’t need Facebook to interpret what it deems I like most, and I certainly don’t want it put me and my friends at odds over money.

Facebook is messing up a good thing.

There’s a lot of criticism over Facebook advertising, which despite the critics can be very effective, and this is why Facebook is moving forward with these tests:  it’s got to prove it’s got the potential to grow for its IPO to have a good reception.

But Zuck isn’t helping himself either.  Put aside the fact he’s going to maintain a majority stake when the company goes public, which means he’s accountable to no one, he’s chronically late to important events and dresses, well, like a kid.

Google may be a rival – a Hunger Game between giants – but the company did something very important when it went public at $80 a share (it’s now trading at more than $600 per share).  It focused.

Facebook too should focus.  It should forget experimenting with users desires and focus instead on making its platform the easiest and most effective advertising medium for reaching targeted audiences with relevant content.

And grow up and put on a pair of shoes and a collared shirt for heaven’s sake!

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