Thursday, 09/10/14

'Ello, Ello - Is It Time To Say Goodbye To Facebook?
by Sophie Pass, Econometrician


"If you don't see the product, the product is you"

It's difficult to find a better way to describe how Facebook works. As its reign of domination continues, it has become increasingly clear that the Social Media giant's real customers are the advertisers. The users, you, me and Joe Bloggs, are the products that Facebook sells. Not only that, but we have also become a very large batch of test rats with Facebook performing a number of social experiments on its users.

Unfortunately for Facebook, Joe Bloggs is starting to cotton onto this behaviour and it's not going down so well. Not only are people getting fed up of their newsfeeds being cluttered and bombarded with "targeted" adverts (I continually get adverts for 'mum' products and the last time I checked I certainly didn't have any children), but people are becoming more concerned with how their data is getting stored and used, and how secure it really is.

This drop in confidence for Facebook has provided a small opening for a new Social Network and Ello has been making the most of it.

The increased demand from users to cut out the ads and quit the data interrogation has been reflected in Ello's manifesto: "Ello is a simple, beautiful and ad-free Social Network…Ello doesn't sell ads. Nor do we sell data about you to third parties".

This exclusive Social Networking site (you have to either be invited by somebody you know already on Ello to join or you can buy an invite on eBay for upwards of $5,000) is all about simplicity, design, sophistication and trying to give people what they want - a clean space to talk without having to worry about how secure this talking is. However, Ello isn't the first Social Network to try the ad-free idea. Both Diaspora and failed to catch on and it is unclear as to how Ello will make any money.  Without a business model it will be hard to find willing investors.

However, whether Ello works or not in the long term isn't the point here.  The number of people that have been willing to give a very new Social Network that is still in its beta stages a chance (45,000 people signing up per hour at one point) should make the Social Giants such as Facebook and Twitter sit up and take notice. Although many of us won't bother leaving, primarily because it's too much effort to start from square one again, by paying attention to what people actually want, Social Media sites will help increase overall user activity.

Instead of creating data paranoia within their users, indicating what data is going to be used and who will be using it would go a long way in restoring confidence in these networking sites.  By being more transparent, perhaps users would be more willing to share their data. Similarly, by making privacy more of an automatic right for users, rather than something they have to search for and consciously change and implement, perhaps people would be willing to share more freely.  A win-win situation for everybody.

Rather than the acquiring and selling of this data being some unknown dark entity, Social Media sites should make it something consumers can be rewarded for and benefit from through willingly sharing. Granted, sometimes their advertising targeting goes wrong (nope, sorry Facebook, I still don't have any children), but if it's necessary to have so many adverts, surely it's preferable to be "bombarded" with adverts that are relevant to you based upon data that you have willingly provided, as opposed to completely irrelevant campaigns?

Another option would be for users to pay for the use of a Social Media site without the ads and the data collecting. We have been reminded yet again this week that any (official) hint of Facebook charging membership fees would be faced with utter outrage, but perhaps by allowing users the option to pay or not would be better received. As opposed to either everybody not paying or everybody paying, perhaps they could take a leaf out of brands such as Spotify, with a free version including ads and data collection and a premium, paid version where people feel secure and confident that not only is their data safe but they can also avoid all those targeting adverts.

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