Earlier this week, Facebook released a new terms of service agreement, which appeared to give Facebook perpetual, non-exclusive copyright to anything you post there.
After a bunch of back and forth in the blogosphere [I do hate that word, but this is really where it was happening], and general demonizing of Facebook itself, and the creation of several “I hate the new Facebook TOS” groups on Facebook itself, the company finally said, umm, we didn’t mean to make y’all mad. Let’s forget this ever happened, mmk?
And their intent seems to be, they’ll fix what they were trying to fix the first time around, with some overhauled terms, one day soon. But that they’re really not trying to steal our stuff.
What not to learn
And all this is very well and good. But I would hate for anyone to take away this lesson from the Great Facebook TOS incident of February 2009:
You can be sloppy and/or abuse your site’s users all you want.
Now, if Facebook didn’t have a history of actually doing that, I’d be more willing to excuse them for this incident. I think they really may just have not realized the loophole their new terms created for abuse of users’ content. But many significant developments on Facebook do seem to happen with this stutter-step approach:
- Facebook adds a new feature [the News Feed, Beacon] without properly sharing the benefits with the community.
- People have a cow.
- Facebook retreats or partially retreats.
- People simmer down and continuing sharing what they had for breakfast with everyone they know.
Here’s the bottom line: Facebook gets away with this kind of behavior because — according to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent blog post — if Facebook were a country, it would be the 6th most populous country on earth. China, India, the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil, Facebook. You can’t get the access Facebook gives you anywhere else.
The rest of us aren’t Facebook
In most other online communities — and especially small, private-label, or local communities — the group needs each user far more than the user needs the group. So when we’re managing a community, we have to remember that our efforts had better make sense the first time around. We’d better be transparent. And we’d better do our best to be useful to the community.
It’s just too easy for a community member to walk when we abuse them. No matter what Facebook demonstrates to the contrary.