There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Today Robert Scoble wrote a really interesting and thought-provoking article on his blog about the alleged suspension/removal of Joel Comm’s Facebook account. He draws a parallel to the revocation of Robert’s own Facebook account and makes a good case for Facebook being outta line.

Here’s my response to Robert:

In defense of you, Joel and countless others who have been suspended or removed from Facebook, it certainly doesn’t seem like you’re being treated fairly. It’s hard to imagine that someone with 5,000 confirmed Facebook friends and ten times as many followers on Twitter could be considered a spambot. Generally speaking, online communities, wikis, social networks, etc. have a way of policing themselves; content that other people enjoy gets shared and promoted while spam and other “noise” gets blocked or ignored. Facebook and other social sites would all be best-served by this sort of grassroots self-policing, rather than a top-down approach.

However, there’s a subtle point to which some other readers have alluded in the comments. You wrote, “I don’t support companies that ‘erase’ MY data without my permission.” What you may not realize is that based on Facebook’s TOS, what you think are “your data” actually are not “your data,” not by a long shot, not once you’ve posted them on Facebook.

If you think there are safer or better places than Facebook to put “your data” on the internet, you’re also mistaken. Take a peek at Google’s TOS. In particular, read section 11, where you hand over all rights to “your” content to them (except basic copyright, which you automatically have any time you produce an original work and put your name on it). You’re basically giving Google a free license to use your content — even for their own commercial gain!

Everyone knows that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. In return for providing “free” distribution of “your” content, companies like Facebook, Google and the likes are creating massive databases of incredibly valuable “information capital.” This in turn allows them to offer you a “free” service while they sell this information capital — the stuff you gave them, remember? — to advertisers. That pays their bills, which in turn allows them to continue to give you “free” content distribution.

Average people (who upload videos of dogs on skateboards, etc. to Facebook) don’t care about data ownership and are perfectly happy to hand the rights to their content over to Facebook or Google it order to share it more easily with their friends. Average people — however — aren’t one man media outlets, either, but YOU are. So, being an internet/social media mogul, I’m sure you understand that content distribution isn’t free.

The solution? Host your content yourself! People like you and Joel have the resources to pay for your own hosting AND you have loyal audiences that will follow you wherever you go. You can leverage social media to help the viral spread of your content, but the obvious goal of your participation in social media and social networking should be to drive eyeballs/click-throughs back to YOUR site so people can view YOUR content, ensuring that YOUR advertisers get bang for their buck.

It really all boils down to two old sayings: there’s no such thing as a free lunch and you get what you pay for. Want to pay for your own hosting and distribution? Then you can own your own content. Want to get free distribution from Facebook or Google? Then be prepared to give them something in return.

2 Replies to “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”

  1. Good point. My argument is that if they really want to protect themselves, they ought to host their own stuff and only post hyperlinks on Twitter, FB and FF — in other words, don’t rely on YouTube and Facebook to host the videos/photos/etc. for you if you’re a social media guru. Just shell out some cash and do your own hosting to protect and monetize your own IP.

    Once a Plumtree guy, always a Plumtree guy, I guess. 🙂 I was employee #26, working there from 1998 to 2002 and when I left I was Lead Engineer.

    As for the Social Rockstar thing, are you talking about this? I wasn’t planning on going, but perhaps I’ll swing by if you think I should.

  2. What Robert and others have figured out is that even though they are a draw, in order to maintain that draw and continue to draw new followers, they need to be where the people congregate.

    BTW: did you used to be a Plumtree guy? Name looks familiar. Are you going to Social Rockstar meetup on Thursday 1/29?

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