Ultimately, we all readily share the data that makes up Us. While everyone seems to worry about what Facebook does with all of the information we feed it, we scurry about, trying to keep as much of that information on Facebook held as privately as possible. Facebook, meanwhile, fights the dichotomy of our need to shared experience and our need to keep privatizing data by constantly shifting underfoot, giving us the option to make this post Public, or share it with Friends or Friends except Acquaintances, or the ever-so-lonely-on-a-social-networking-site Only Me. All the while, Facebook’s real move has taken place under our noses.
Facebook came to prominence with the ubiquitous “Like” button. Other social networking sites let us share our personalities, our likes and fascinations. However, what allowed Facebook to grow over the top of these other sites was something very simple — the ability to share with others the direct experience of our enjoyment, the web articles, the recipes (with pics), and the cute cat videos. It’s a rare person who doesn’t want to talk about him or herself. The “Like” button gave us the ability to do that without saying a word. And, it was everywhere, setting up Facebook for dominance in the fledgling world of Social Media and making it a force in the coming of the World Wide Web 2.0, where Social changed the nature of how information disseminated amongst users.
In short, Facebook took as much control of our information, our “Likes”, our photos, as it could, adding new features to counter those of other platforms — “Check-in” versus FourSquare, the out-right purchase of Instagram. Because, in the world of monetizing Social, the information you control or to which you have access takes precedence over all other considerations. Through the use of powerful algorithms, these bits of information provide the groundwork for the ads that Facebook and other social sites use as the basis of their capital. However, Facebook fought a losing battle, despite its preeminence; too many niche start-ups discovered too many divergent ways for people to share data, much as Facebook supplanted other social networking sites with the “Like” button.
To my memory, it started with Spotify. The depth of artists in its streaming music service, and integration with iTunes (the world’s largest music vendor), made it a natural to unseat Spotify and Last FM, to some degree. Then, subtly, it integrated with Facebook. With the “Like” button conspicuous in its absence, music played on Spotify automatically posts to Facebook profiles. Such convenience! Almost as quickly, another change took place — the integration of the Facebook login API. By the time I got to Spotify, logging in through my Facebook account remained the only method of joining.
Now, the ubiquitous “Like” button, still extant, next to all of the other social sharing buttons — Twitter, Pinterest, WordPress, etc. — has been supplanted in social media by the Facebook login API. Not necessarily an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, Facebook simply allowed its dominance in the market do the work for it. Other platforms took the opportunity to deepen their integration with Facebook as a means of extending their own user bases.
Facebook, meanwhile, comes out the big winner here. In the social media world, Facebook figured out a way to convince the other platforms that, instead of being out to beat them, it was out to help them. And, in so doing, it’s collected more of our data than we originally may have wished. When we join a new social media platform, the Facebook login API represents such an easy way to cut-out the red tape of re-entering all of our demographic information yet again. The genius of Facebook’s new role is exactly that — through convenience, it has become the hub of our online lives, and it won the battle without firing a shot.
Or, to take the metaphor a little more seriously, after the battle and a brief period of armistice, as Facebook realized the tenuousness of remaining on top, it simply found a way to be elected Benevolent Dictator by its competitors.
Smooth move, Zuckerberg. Smooth move. All your base are now belong to Facebook.