It would seem that changes are afoot at Facebook.com. As a casual user, you probably won’t notice much – unless you choose to express your affection for a favorite television show or musician via your cover photo, or engage in posting activity that an algorithm might rule to be spam; but if you run a business with a Facebook Page, then the message: pay up or lose the juice.
There was a time that all a site needed to see consistent traffic from Facebook was good content and a loyal fan base. Things would happen organically. Since promoted posts came in, a number of sources have reported a significant drop-off in traffic from their Facebook Pages. While some might take this as a not-so-subtle attempt for Facebook to push paid promotions, the company claims that this is not the case.
A few days ago one of my Facebook friends was informed that, unless he proved his case, he would be banned from posting video. His crime was posting two videos from an obscure video site: one of some entertaining construction site practices shot somewhere in Africa, and one of a Bangladeshi brickyard worker balancing 20-something bricks on his head. The posts were in no way derogatory, racist or offensive and they were only seen by his friends – so who would have complained? In the end, he managed to plead his case, the videos remained and he will live to post another day – but the guilty until proven innocent approach is hardly conducive to a positive user experience.
As far as I can see it, the only reason for his posting activity to have been singled out was because it did not come from a major source. It came from an obscure video site (with which he had no affiliation). As a result, it would seem to me that the issue that Facebook had with his posts was not the content of the video but that he seemed to be using his Facebook page to promote the site in question.
Today, Mashable reports that staffers and readers have had issues with disappearing cover shots. Pete Pachal lost his Doctor Who cover photo and received this warning message:
Pick a unique photo from your life to feature at the top of your timeline. Note: This space is not meant for banner ads or other promotions. Please don’t use content that is commercial, promotional, copyright-infringing or already in use on other people’s covers.
If we look at these changes separately, the issues look like minor annoyances, but taken together it definitely looks like a bigger plan is being put into motion. Facebook is now a publicly traded company. Shareholders want to see dividends; greed is good and lunch is for wimps. Unfortunately, what sounds good in theory and looks good on paper does not always translate into goodwill. Facebook might now be a serious business and might have to satisfy its shareholders with serious profits, but the people that make the decisions need to remember that their business is people and that on the Interwebs people tend to be very, very fickle. While unprecedented in scale, the implosion of a site with the clout of Facebook would simply be a continuation of what has happened since the Internet began. Yahoo and MySpace both offer prime examples of the sorts of things that can and do go wrong.
It would be simple to assume that Facebook is being greedy, but at the end of the day it is facing the same problems that any business faces when it has saturated the market. The problem is that they wish to keep their bottom line growing but don’t really have anything new to offer. They have a hard road ahead if they want to convince people to start paying for what they have been getting for free – especially when it feels like a good old-fashioned shake down.