Contemplating A Case For Private Social Networks
It's no secret that social media platforms impact the way we share and consume information with and from one another. Media companies rely on these networks to increase their readership. Brands rely on these networks to get their product out to the world. Non-profit companies depend on these networks to raise awareness and organize events. Disgruntled people find this venue to be a great source to voice their unhappiness. And, happy people find social networks to, well, voice their exuberance.
There is, however, a salient problem underlying these networks. Let's consider Facebook as the epitome for this case study. It is a company that freely provides a platform to share your content with others, find people you may have lost touch with, and share other people's content you may have found interesting. The way they make their business profitable for themselves is by selling your browsing habits to other businesses willing to pay for your attention. They also assert copyright ownership on any content you post in order for them to legally share this information with others on their network. Therein lies the rub.
Let's say you want to create a group on Facebook for people who are like minded. You create a group page and add a few of your friends who share your interests. Now you want to grow your group. How do you do this on Facebook without paying them for advertising? Word of mouth works if you don't have any money to spend on this project. However, it will take a long time for you to get the word out. Let's say you decide to pay Facebook to increase your group's participation. Therein lies another problem. You never own your own audience and Facebook shares the copyright to all content you or the group members create.
Let's consider a business's point of view. You have a great product. You want to reach the market you set out to sell your product to and you decide you must have a Facebook page. You complete the necessary forms and now you have a company page. You invite your friends and family to like your page and ask them to spread the word about your business. You consider advertising on Facebook because there is no other way for your business to reach it's intended audience on there without first paying for the advertising and the data Facebook has collected on you and millions of others who use Facebook. Furthermore, you place your trust that Facebook's algorithms are correct in identifying each person's interest so that your advertising dollars are not wasted on the wrong audience. How do you validate this on Facebook? You can't.
This is where I see a strong case for moving to a model where social networks are focused on our interests and are searchable based on our personal interests. The walled garden that is Facebook, or most social networks today, actually work against the original mission of the world wide web -- create an environment for the free exchange of ideas. Keeping with the discussion about Facebook, the news feed is nothing more than an unconscious stream of unstructured thoughts. Value in each post is then determined purely on its ability to get you to click on it.
There is a way to still keep the value of a social network and ownership of content with the creator and not having it co-opted by business behind the network. Private social networks can serve the interests of its members and create a viable opportunity to fund its activities. Businesses wanting to showcase their products to an audience within its target market can pay the private network for their attention. In essence, a private social network can earn revenue from the advertisers that are willing to pay for a few seconds of your time. By doing so, a new market opportunity can be created that is open, fair to it's participants, more targeted for advertisers, and more structured in the way ideas are shared.
Facebook and most every social network today do not have a revenue sharing model where it pays it's users a portion of the profit they earn because of the content you created. This model will probably not change anytime soon. Taking this further, if you consider chat data and the data mining opportunities there, it's only a matter of time before you start seeing apps like WhatsApp or Messenger following suit and taking your conversations to create profiles for advertisers. Private social networks allow a new opportunity to flourish and perhaps let us decide who, when, and how our private data is shared and sold for a tidy sum.
A software engineer, product nerd, educator, and martial artist with a knack for solving business problems.