When it comes right down to it, the popular social web site Facebook has evolved into one of the single most annoying commercial constructs ever unleashed online.
Originally designed to be a place where friends and acquaintances could gather and socialize, it is now little more than a spam machine that is validated and powered by us and our friends.
Advertisers are fully aware that, because of its social base, Facebook users trust Facebook content, and thus also trust its integrated commercial messages.
As a result, most material you find on the web site now is friend-validated marketing mana.
It’s a disappointing outcome for a place that was once just about friendship and communication.
Nowadays it’s more about the forced integration of commercialism and consumerism into personal discourse.
And that’s how Facebook likes it, because advertising butters the company’s bread.
But really, how far can Facebook push this model of socially-driven advertising?
Imagine a world where all of the neighbours on your street can effortlessly duplicate the junk mail that arrives in their mailboxes and dump it in yours.
Imagine that your friends forward on calls from telemarketers to you.
This is Facebook now.
Back in the day (like, a year ago), Facebook was an excellent platform for social discourse.
It enabled you to inventory a lifetime of friends and engage with them in a relatively qualified fashion.
It was better than email because the communications network was closed and protected from spam.
It naturally bridged the communications gap between the web and your mobile phone so that you could maintain constant contact with your social circle.
Plus, it had an element of fun. There were games and silly little messaging applications that you could use to socialize and kill time. It was a cute little site that was fun and generally useful.
That “old” Facebook, the one that was really useful and interesting, is dead.
It all started one fateful day last May, when Facebook opened the site up to let anyone develop content.
A major investment blog at the time encouraged people to throw cash at the platform as a way to monetize Facebook’s then 20 million users.
That advice was taken to heart and by month’s end there were already 85 commercial applications available. There are now almost 14,000.
These applications are generally powered by advertising dollars, and much of their content is generally made up of commercial or consumer messages.
So to engage with Facebook applications is to play a willing role in the distribution of unsolicited advertising.
Then in October, having grown to 50 million users, Facebook extended their platform to mobile devices and brought their commercial partners with them.
At the same time, Microsoft bought less than 2% of the company for $240 million. And all of a sudden Facebook was worth $15 billion.
Suddenly, the pressure was on to prove that valuation.
Clearly not satisfied with pure ad revenues, the company decided to hawk its most valuable asset, it’s user base, to the highest bidder.
Last November, the company launched Beacon, a misguided marketing effort designed to bridge individual consumer habits with a sort of product verification system.
Under Beacon, if you bought something from a Facebook partner retailer, your purchase would be advertised to your friends.
In a way, it was an imposed word-of-mouth marketing methodology.
As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said when he announced Beacon: “A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message.
A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.”
It’s true, but only when the broadcast is voluntary, deliberate, and personal. Beacon enforces the process in a seriously systematic fashion.
Rightfully, Facebook Beacon was immediately attacked as an invasion of privacy and a misuse of personal information.
Beacon was modified somewhat as a result, but it’s still an automated, uncontrolled information bridge between Facebook and e-tailers like Sony, Blockbuster, and Crest.
Facebook has evolved into an environment that misuses the trust we share with friends to endorse commercial messages we may not even be aware that we’re involved with.
It’s no longer a place to meet up and communicate. It’s now an environment where each of us is pimped out for commercial interests in a form of unpaid sponsorship.
At least in a pyramid scheme you get a cut of the action; Facebook doesn’t even say thank-you.