#TANSTAAFL vs. the #facebookexperiment

In the period of time since I posted a long, rant-y post about how I was kicking the Facebook habit, one of the common rebuttals I’ve been subjected to concerns the ostensibly “free” aspect of the service. After all, everyone needs to make money, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product, what do you expect, don’t you know There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch?!?

Okay, thanks Heinlein.

Here are some other arguments/questions I have issues with:

~~Workers shouldn’t strike for fair wages – they should be glad to have a job. (I’d put a date on this quote, but you can take your pick – 1909 or 2009).

~~What’s the point of a class action lawsuit against Big Tobacco? Surely people knew what they were getting into…

~~Mom! I pooped on the rug!

Okay, so that last one was my dog. Never mind. Let’s move on.

Anyway, from one perspective we can say that on social media, the consumers are the products and the ad-buyers are the customers. So, social media can do whatever it wants, because TANSTAAFL.

But here is my counter-argument. From my perspective, social media is a community and a partnership. I agree to participate because there is a benefit — I get to keep in touch with my family, promote my work, and look at pictures of kittens all day long if I want. So there is value for me in using the service.

At the same time, I BRING value to the table. Let’s see, if all of the people who participated in your community decided to leave, what would you then have? A ghost town with dilapidated signs swinging all around, that’s what. Frankly, I’m not sure what took me so long to make the decision that my profile wasn’t worth the being advertised to (oh yeah, that whole checking up with family and promoting my work…) but when you start experimenting with psychological control on your community, you’ve lost the respect you should have for that community. You’ve come to expect that free lunch, while mocking your servers for having their ethically-infringed cake and wanting to eat it, too.

If Facebook wants a big pool of data to sell to its advertising customers, they should do what everyone else does — pay for the market research. Or, at least provide a safe place where the people willing to contribute a certain amount of their data for a community experience don’t have to worry about being mistaken for free-loading lab rats.

Anyway, I’m still not completely off Facebook, but I’m working on extricating myself. In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of work done. It’s amazing how much more you can concentrate without the distraction of being someone else’s free lunch.

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