Making Rules, II

So many comments, so little time. I have to run to a bus in the rain shortly. So I’ll respond to just one: Don Dodge’s.

Yes, it’s true that “consumers sometimes forget the bargain they made in exchange for the free services”.

But it’s also true that almost nobody reads Facebook’s “Terms of Service“, much less anybody else’s. Not long ago I posted about the terms for Verizon and AT&T services. Each was over 10,000 words long and boiled down to “We can cut you off at any time for any reason we like and you have no recourse.”

All these ToSes are asymmetrical to a degree that verges on slavery. What’s the point of even looking at them? If we want the services, we do the deal. If the service is free, all the better. That these bargains are faustain has been known for the duration.

Do we have to continue to make them? The answer is yes, as long as we deal with the devil from a position of near-absolute weakness.

That weakness was more than learned — it was institutionalized — in the Industrial Age. That was a long period of business history during which we came to think that markets are all about What Big Companies Do, and that a “free” market is “Your choice of walled garden”. I wrote about this in Go from Hell, back in September. Here’s the section that pertains most to the Facebook Matter at hand:

Alvin Toffler explored this irony in The Third Wave, published in 1980, where he said:

  (The Industrial Age) violently split apart two aspects of our lives that had always been one… production and consumption… In so doing, it drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy, our psyches … it ripped apart the underlying unity of society, creating a way of life filled with economic tension.

I wrote about that split, that tension, in Listen up, back in 1998 — eighteen years after The Third Wave and nine years before now.

David Weinberger and I also wrote about it a year later, in this chapter of Cluetrain. We called it “The Axe in Our Heads”:

  Ironically, many of us spend our days wielding axes ourselves. In our private lives we defend ourselves from the marketing messages out to get us, our defenses made stronger for having spent the day at work trying to drive axes into our customers’ heads. We do both because the axe is already there, the metaphorical embodiment of that wedge Toffler wrote about — the one that divides our jobs from our lives. On the supply side is the producer; on the demand side is the consumer. In the caste system of industry, it is bad form for the two to exchange more than pleasantries.
  Thus the system is quietly maintained, and our silence goes unnoticed beneath the noise of marketing-as-usual. No exchange between seller and buyer, no banter, no conversation. And hold the handshakes.
  When you have the combined weight of two hundred years of history and a trillion-dollar tide of marketing pressing down on the axe in your head, you can bet it’s wedged in there pretty good. What’s remarkable is that now there’s a force potent enough to actually start loosening it.
  Here’s the voice of a spokesperson from the world of TV itself, Howard Beale, the anchorman in Paddy Chayefsky’s Network who announced that he would commit suicide because “I just ran out of bullshit.” Of course, he had to go insane before he could at last utter this truth and pull the axe from his own head.

We’re all still Howard Beales today. We haven’t run out of bullshit, and there’s no less cause for anger than there was when Network, The Third Wave and Cluetrain each came out. The Information Age is here, but its future is not just (as William Gibson put it) unevenly distributed. Large parts of it aren’t here at all. The largest of those is actual empowerment of customers — in ways that are native to customers, rather than privileges granted by vendors. The difference is huge.

That’s why yelling doesn’t work. What we need instead is to make tools that work for us, and not just for them. We need to invent tools that give each of us independence from vendor control, and better ways of telling vendors what we want, when we want it, and how we want to relate — on our terms and not just on theirs. As Neo said to the Architect, “The problem is choice”. That problem will be with us as long as that axe is in our heads.

Thank Facebook for starting to pull that axe out. As Dan Blank shows, and Jason Calacanis says,

All of this comes up because Facebook has done three things that are at once extremely innovative, extremely rude, extremely helpful, and extremely disconcerting:

1. They are collecting and republishing user data on a level not before seen by users.

2. They are allowing advertisers to use this data to reach these users.

3. They are not giving this information–information that has put their value at $15 billion–back to their users.

Depending on who you are, or what your goals are at a particular time, you might find extreme pleasure or discomfort in each of these.

What matters is the first point. (Forgive me, but the others are red herrings, even if you’re an entrepreneur hoping to make money on the advertising gravy train.) Facebook crossed a line here. They lured us into a vast stockyard, and then began to monetize us in ways that violated our quaint notion that we are not in fact cattle.

Treating users of free services like cattle is as old as TV, radio and billboards. It may be as old as people painting in caves with charcoal and spit. The difference now isn’t in Facebook’s manners, which are no different than those of NBC or the New York Times. The difference isn’t even that this time it’s personal. That’s been a holy grail for advertising since the beginning as well. Facebook is reaching for a golden ring here, and I’m inclined to forgive them for doing that.

The main difference is that we’re not powerless any more. That was the core message of this line from Cluetrain:

If we want our reach to truly exceed Facebook’s grasp, we can’t just tell Facebook to stop grasping. We have do deals on our terms and not just theirs. We have to have real relationships and not just systems on the sell side built only to “manage” us, mostly by minimizing human contact.

Perhaps most of all, we need to come up with systems that help demand find supply, rather than just ones that help supply find (or “create”) demand. That means we need alternatives to the outmoded and inefficient system of guesswork we call advertising.

That doesn’t mean we make advertising go away. But it does mean that we find new paths between demand and supply. and it does mean that find ways to get unwanted advertising out of our face.

[Later…] Alan Patrick sees a tipping point.

15 responses to “Making Rules, II”

  1. […] Rules, II 26 11 2007 Making Rules, II: What matters is the first point. (Forgive me, but the others are red herrings, even if you’re an […]

  2. […] one possible set of responses in these two articles.   Time To Write Our Own Rules And Making Rules, II where he notes:What we need instead is to make tools that work for us, and not just for them. We need to invent […]

  3. Doc – thanks for tackling this important by sticky topic. I love your balanced and prescriptive approach.

    My take on this is that the Google/Microsoft/Yahoo’s of the world are going to inadvertently kill the goose that lays the golden eggs (us, the content creators) through the hardcore monetization of their free social networking sites via invasive advertising. While the big three may ultimately succeed with their “don’t worry, we’ll raise more golden egg-laying geese” approach, I think it’s a slippery slope.

    As you and David W. have suggested, it seems that one solution to this problem might be for the big three to put in robust privacy controls so that those of us that care (we will be in the minority) can opt out of allowing “them” to sell us (and our friends) advertising based on what we’ve done, written and/or purchased on other sites. At the same time, this would give the big boys street cred by allowing them to say, “look guys, we heard you and we are also concerned about privacy so this is how we’ve rectified the issue.”

    I do love the concept of giving/getting i.e. we should have greater control of our own user generated content/RSS feeds. Plaxo for one has been pushing this as part of their unique selling proposition. It will be interesting to see if others follow.

  4. Wonderful commentary.

  5. Doc,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your commentary on this. Even if you don’t take this to the extreme, the fact that Facebook’s Privacy and Security policies are weaker than those of ANY of their major competitors deserves more attention than it is getting. This includes MySpace, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. I didn’t have time to check others when I initially blogged about this, but I’m sure there are plenty.

    Here is a link to what I wrote about this previously:

    They clearly have a blank check approach in mind so that they can do whatever they want as it comes to mind, without regard for their users. While this may be good for a garage stage startup, it isn’t such a good way of doing things for a company that has reached the level of Facebook.


  6. Is it possible to find a win-win for both vendors and customers? Vendors want/need information about their customers. Under the right circumstances would customers share information with vendors? Can a mutually beneficial solution be created that could work for both parties?

  7. […] Doc creates a major post – he gets all sorts of feedback. So I’ve learned to wait a day before responding – and sure ‘nuf a whole bunch of stuff explodes around Doc’s post. […]

  8. I deeply admired The Cluetrain Manifesto when I first read it. I admire it today.

    But as long as sheeple continue to line up for abuse, the supply of abuse will grow to meet the rising demand.

    All of this is the rattling of an empty scabbard. No one in a position of power has anything to gain by pushing the pendulum back. No one with anything to gain has the power to push the pendulum back.

    I won’t go off the deep-end on you, but I invite anyone to show the error of that statement.

  9. […] need Tim O’Reilly calling out rightly “It’s the data stupid“,  or Doc Searl pointing us to VRM, because service providers thinking user value would make it a priority to put […]

  10. What you said about markets;

    They were real places that thrived at the crossroads of cultures. They didn’t need a market model, because they were the model market. More than religion, war or family, markets were real places where communities came together. They weren’t just where sellers did business with buyers. They were the place where everybody got together to hang out, talk, tell stories and learn interesting stuff about each other and the larger world. ‘

    That’s what WEB 2.0 is about and what FaceBook implements. The problem is that, that sort of market simply doesn’t scale. Personally, I work in the Enterprise 2.0 space, looking for integrated implementation solutions services that will sell billable hours. At least, internal corporate communities are on a scale that will work, where the population is something less than millions.

    Expanding on I said yesterday, until the entire user community decides to be more judicious in the usage of these honeypots, called FaceBook, we will never get the deal changed.

  11. […] home an important understanding about the bigger issues at play here in his series of posts about Making Rules.  I may be interpreting it slightly differently, but these eloquent series of posts support […]

  12. […] we equip customers to lead vendors, the axe is pulled from our heads, and the walled garden becomes […]

  13. Will they do the same with Twitter? I mean the torrents of information that would have to be stored is mind-numbing!

  14. It’s very interesting what you say. The terms and conditions of every website are so ridiculously complex I have absolutely no idea what I have committed myself to over my years inline. It’s quite scary really. I am however convinced that these commitment are in the interest of one party and it’s not me. Seems that we all need a lawyer sitting right beside us for virtually everything that we do these days.


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