I’ve been a fan of Facebook pretty much since its inception, as soon as they let dinosaurs like me in. Continued to be a fan as Facebook grew, count a number of people there amongst my friends. [And no, I do not own any stock there].
There’s lots about Facebook I like.
When some people moved over to Google+, I did what most others did. Treated Google+ like a gym. Joined. Went there occasionally. And not much else.
I’ve marvelled at how Facebook makes a misstep, learns from it, adjusts and adapts in superfast time. I’ve waxed lyrical about how enterprises could learn from Facebook.
I’ve been frustrated by shenanigans to do with Friendfeed and with Instagram, especially when things haven’t quite worked the way I expected them to work. I’ve been discomfited by the way my blog content suddenly “lived” in more than one place, with comments and conversations fragmenting. Little niggles here and there. But not enough to worry me.
You could say I’ve been a Facebook fanboy.
And then yesterday I learnt something that made me go Hmmm.
Here’s the story. Some days ago, I happened across some delightful reviews of a product in Amazon, a whole new genre of writing that I’ve been aware of for some years, but only followed seriously since Three Wolf Moon. I enjoyed reading what was written in the reviews of what appeared to be a very expensive audio cable. And, as you would expect, I shared it with my friends. In Facebook. And Twitter. And even Google+.
And that was that.
Yesterday, a friend of mine, someone I’ve known for thirty years, got in touch and pointed out that my act of sharing was now part of a “sponsored” something or the other, as shown above.
And that makes me go Hmmm.
There’s something I really don’t like about it.
When I share things, I share because I feel like sharing. Not promoted or sponsored or anything like that. Nobody pays me to write what I write, or to share what I share. Occasionally I write something that touches on Salesforce.com, where I work. Work is part of my life, so why ever not? And whenever there is any risk of people misconstruing what I write, I make sure the relationship is made very clear. I write about work the way I write about music or about food or about anything else that forms part of my life.
I am not paid to share. And what I share I share because I feel like sharing it.
So when I see my name appear under the headline “Sponsored” it does not sit well with me.
Now, all of a sudden, I have to think about what’s happening in a different light. Where and how did I give Facebook the right to use something I shared and embed it in a sponsored link? Perhaps I did, buried deep in the terms and conditions. In this content I don’t care if I made my comment publicly (I did), what matters to me is that there is a perception that I was sponsored to say something. And that I am not happy about.
I have other questions now. Who else saw the sponsored link? Was it just made visible to my friends? Why was my act-of-sharing considered worth embedding in a sponsored link? Was it my perceived “influence”? I’m not exactly an A-lister. There are many more such questions.
The most intriguing one for me is “why”?
Did someone pay for that sponsored link? Why on earth would they pay? What I’d shared was really satire, complete and absolute corruption of the review process in Amazon, but a corruption I admire and enjoy. Nobody is going to pay thousands of dollars for an audio cable after reading what I’ve said. It’s not that type of review, it’s not that type of product. For all I know the product may not even be for sale.
I have this faint and lingering thought that the whole thing is some sort of Kevin Slavin algorithms-gone-mad situation. That nobody actually paid for the sponsored link (there was nothing to gain), that somewhere deep inside the denizens of Facebook people are experimenting with new revenue streams that allow advertisers to pick recommendations up from shared activity streams and use them as they see fit. That the requisite permision structures are still being built. That somehow something “escaped” into the blue yonder.
Am I being too charitable? You tell me.
I don’t have any answers. I’m still not “against” Facebook, I’m not that kind of guy.
What I do have is this feeling of Hmmm. And a wish to know more about what really happened before I decide to do something about it.