The Facebook Backlash

Wow, for an announcement that was supposed to explain how Facebook is worth $15 billion, the company’s Social Ads debut the other day sure got a lot of negative reaction—not least because of the appearance of arrogance by Facebook execs such as CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was reported to have said: “There is no opting out of advertising.”

A sampling of the tongue-lashing:

Ashkan Karbasfrooshan at “Facebook has … basically sold out its user base.”

From Matt Asay at the CNET blog The Open Road: “Surely there’s more to Web 2.0 than whoring social data for profit. Right? Right???”

Umair Haque at “What makes revolutionaries - well, revolutionary - is the desire to change the world. For the better…. But that’s not what Facebook wants to do. Facebook wants to take over the world…. Evil is deeply embedded in Facebook’s corporate DNA.”

Nick Carr: “The social graph, it turns out, is a platform for social graft. … Facebook, which distinguished itself by being the anti-MySpace, is now determined to out-MySpace MySpace. It’s a nifty system: First you get your users to entrust their personal data to you, and then you not only sell that data to advertisers but you get the users to be the vector for the ads. And what do the users get in return? An animated Sprite Sips character to interact with.”

Om Malik at GigaOm: “This is a privacy disaster waiting to happen.”

From a commenter on my original post: “Wow he reinvented spam! Aren’t we all so proud of this achievement?”

From a commenter on the New York Times’ Bits blog: “Facebook has become Amway. When friendships become mere selling opportunities, we’ve all lost.”

Alexander van Elsas: “Mark, you aren’t getting into the conversation, you are really only trespassing.”

Yikes. Facebook has shown it can adjust to negative feedback, though, and there’s no telling yet whether those views represent Facebook’s 50 million members. (I suspect not, actually, but we’ll find out soon enough.) So I think it’s just a wee bit early to assume its plans won’t work. Plus, Social Ads is at least in part an effort to make advertising more of a conversation. Kudos if it can pull that off, even in a small way.

But the vociferous reaction here makes me wonder if the Facebook honeymoon just ended. If so, good riddance. Blind adoration is never good for a company, or ultimately for its users.

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