Facebook floats away…

The reaction to Facebook’s IPO is pretty extraordinary, with coverage akin to a major sporting event. This is what we’ll have to live with, now, this FB ticker watching, an unholy extra element to consider every time there’s another cack-handed redesign or privacy-smashing misstep. I think we’d all do well to ignore the minutia of its share price performance, both for the sake of one’s sanity, and because Facebook, I suspect, is the new AOL – a goliath that will wane and lose relevance.

Now I’m not basing that on any astute analysis of parallels between their business models or what have you. It’s more based on two opinions that are resolutely personal – A) their product is shit, and B) I don’t trust them.

As I put it a few months’ ago

“Analysis is going to be unavoidable and, to a large degree, unbearable – at heart we all know that Facebook is not only manipulative and frequently untrustworthy, it’s also a fundamental disappointment…Our online social graph, the most tangible link we can have with many people we consider friends, is no longer something joyous and comforting; instead Zuckerberg has turned it into something vaguely threatening, a potential trap that needs to be constantly negotiated, a latent liability that is forever just outside our control. It doesn’t matter how benign or harmless your Likes and Status Updates and Pokes are; the inability to trust Facebook, the warranted suspicion that its ethics are awry, means that our friendships and our profile becomes a source of anxiety. And so something that should be one of the pinnacles of the internet age, a beacon of 21st-century technology, instead represents a particularly depressing sort of failure, no matter how many billions its IPO rakes in.”

That sense of anxiety is likely to be married to an increasing frustrations as the company starts to more aggressively monetise its users. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo points out what this will inevitably lead to:

“This is how the bombardment will begin. Like urban graffiti, the ads will show up with greater frequency in your feed and on your phone. Then they’ll begin to put them in parts of the site you didn’t even know existed…Facebook just began testing a way for users to pay a small fee to get their status updates seen by most of their friends. If Facebook will now allow you to bother your friends for a fee, what won’t it do?”

How much will social graph lock-in give Facebook a monopoly in social networking? Probably a lot, but people probably thought something similar about Hotmail, and people didn’t hesitate to ditch that piece of junk when a better alternative came along in Gmail. Maybe I’m underestimating people’s willingness to tolerate crap software produced by companies with questionable ethics (and given Microsoft’s continued dominance in operating systems, there’s a body of evidence that suggests I’m seriously underestimating it), but I strongly suspect they’ll take a tumble at some point. And according to a CNBC poll, I’m not alone:

“Nearly 60 percent say they don’t trust Facebook to keep their personal information private and the overall favorability of the company lags far behind Google, Apple, and even Microsoft. (Though way ahead of Twitter.) Despite the poor reputation people still continue to use the site in overwhelming numbers — 900 million accounts worldwide, at an average of seven hours per month, per user — but the numbers here do suggest trouble for the long term. Forty-six percent of the people polled say they expect something better will come along to replace it.”

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