Facebook vs Tumblr; Business models vs. the real world
This post is perhaps a continuation of my previous one, Instagram vs Tumblr: http://www.theverge.com/2012/4/20/2961999/instagram-vs-tumblr#_=_. It is an attempt at investigating the different services offerings within the social realm and what its respective direction dictates for the future of each.
So Facebook has recently bought Instagram as a foray into content discovery, curation and most of all creation, all of which Facebook is presently rather unsuccessful in. It has attempted pulling in the action graph from associated websites like the Washington post but the result is just creepy.
It has also for some time now been opening its API for other services like Tumblr and Instagram to publish into the Facebook feed. This is more successful, though frequently annoying and in the long run poses a problem for Facebook.
The fundamental problem is that Facebook offers a kind of Kiddyland reality where, even though we sometimes post about the Arab spring etc, only positive, unremarkable and superficial posting is really socially acceptable. Posting too much content related to politics, work, personal issues, difficult and existential questions, social issues or explicit content will get you unfriended. Facebook could also ban your account if you post harmless things such as photos of yourself breastfeeding your newborn. *
As Facebook tries to grow its web into an internet within the internet by pulling in content from other networks and encourage users to share on Facebook too, it will raise the question of censorship: the censorship that Facebook imposes, by banning members, removing pages, outlawing perfectly natural things such as those breastfeeding photos, and also the censorship we impose on ourselves: what will people think of me if I make my real opinion known?
Now, as we start pulling in our postings from other networks we will without a doubt start considering what we can and cannot, say, take photos of, because it will be automatically displayed to almost everyone we know. It will become as much a question of limiting ourselves as it is of expressing ourselves. In some ways our Facebook identity is more real than our offline selves, in some ways more of a made up one. In which direction will it go from here?
The mechanism through which the anonymous authority operates is conformity. I ought to do what everybody else does, hence, I must conform, not be different, not "stick out"; I must be ready and willing to change according to the changes in the pattern; I must not ask whether I am right or wrong, but whether I am adjusted, whether I am not "peculiar", not different. -Erich Fromm
If Facebook starts extending into our creative activities too, won't that mean that censorship will reach this part of our lives too?
Several other networks have the same problems and deal with censorship too: Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr have all clamped down on 'thinspo' which has been described as a type of self harm and a way of pressuring others to lose more and more weight to adhere to what is generally said to be an unhealthy ideal.
There’s also other things, like simple nudity, which don’t mesh too well with either social network. For this reason, there exists off-shoots like Pornterest and such.
However, this is where Tumblr stands out. It is as far as I know the only, widely used, social network that allows the entire breadth of the human experience on its domain. Teenage angst, lovehurt, voicing personal and family issues, disappointment, accomplishment, graphical accounts of such things as the tragedy of war, poverty, homelessness, sex, and so on are all expressed on this same network, allowing users far, far more freedom for expression than anywhere else, yet still allowing them to connect and share with others in the same situation.
Tumblr is growing in importance for content discovery, and it covers pretty much all topics you could think of. I am following users posting on all of the previously mentioned topics, from IT and technology, to design and art and fashion.
Tumblr is my number one source of ideas and inspiration, followed by my RSS reader on my phone and tablet which allows me to keep up with news in different areas and parts of the world. It seems to me that the 'blog' has grown up and become an enterprise: there are few good, personal blogs left out there, at least I'm not able to find them. The successful blogs have morphed into businesses like Engadget and the verge while the personal is now posted on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr.
Now, I curate two different Facebook pages, connected to two Tumblrs. One is for an independent publication and publishing project, one is more of a personal creative outlet.
Through using ifttt.com I'm able to have my tumblr, and also instagram and others, posts directly put onto my Facebook page and the images saved in a photo album on the page, and thus build the identity of the Page or brand effortlessly.
However, I noticed that because of the different directions of the networks, this poses a problem for me and my posting, and perhaps further into the future, my Facebook account. I reblog lot o art photography, which often contains images that arent exactly 'pretty' and frequently involve nudity- normal parts of life and frequent subjects of art and photography and other mediums.
My concern is that because of the limited nature of Facebook, the Page might be closed by Facebook. So what am I supposed to do? Limit my posting on Tumblr to what’s allowed on Facebook? Turn off automatic sharing?
So even though it has an open graph, the closed mentality of Facebook poses a huge barrier, perhaps even a threat, to creativity and self expression. I will probably need to remove the automatically feed onto Facebook and do my selection manually after the fact, which will make posting on Facebook more of a chore and less attractive to me and many others.
"Another aspect of alienated conformity is the leveling-out process of taste and judgment [...] "When I first came here I was pretty rarefied,' a self-styled 'egghead' explained to a recent visitor. 'I remember how shocked I was one day when I told the girls in the court how much I had enjoyed listening to The Magic Flute the night before. They didn't know what I was talking about. I began to learn that diaper talk is a lot more important to them. I still listen to The Magic Flute but now I realize that for most people other things in life seem as important.'" -Erich Fromm
Also, because of how closely Facebook is linked to our identities I'm not even sure if I want to connect Facebook to my other services. It’s nice to communicate with distinctly different crowds, and I don't necessarily want to be linked to my creative endeavours personally.
In this way, Facebooks extension into a second internet seems difficult, perhaps unlikely. There are many things that simply aren't suited for Facebook, and the site may remain rather trivial.
So what is the fundamental reason that Facebook limits what we can post? I believe it is caused by the way that Facebook has chosen to monetize the service through advertising. As an advertising platform Facebook relies mostly on scale. And as everyone who's ever watched TV knows, the mainstream is always beige. To not turn away users from its site, Facebook has to control what can and cannot be posted there.
For anybody that has ever tried to come up with personal viewpoints, expressed opinions or done anything creatively, knows that such things require an environment that feels safe and comfortable, where you can be who you are and say what you think. Facebook is not that environment and will probably never be. Therefore, whatever foray Facebook does into content creation will fail.
Tumblr on the other hand has not had a business model up until a few days ago, and had not had to bother its users much. Tumblr is almost as free as the internet at large and it has more freedom for users to choose which content to see, and what to share or express.
The sad thing is that that Tumblr seems to be going the same way as Facebook when it comes to monetization, now adding advertising to the service.
It is a little surprising that none of the people in the valley have realized that what Facebook and other social networks should sell is not virtual advertising space, but the actual access to the network and the statistics you can see if you have a Facebook Page. Brands need to realize this too; move away from spamming to appreciating the privilege it is to be able to speak to people and share what they’re about.
If Facebook moves away from selling ad space and instead to selling the opportunity to connect with customers, then perhaps that would save privacy too. It really wouldn’t be that important how old somebody was: the conversation itself would be much more significant. A side-effect would be that the network would perhaps not need to be vanilla flavoured then, and might come in any typical or odd flavor you could possibly want.
* It must also be noted that while the Arab spring is a huge issue that involves human rights, it is something that most Facebook users are watching from afar. If this revolution took place in Europe or the US, would Facebook still be protecting dissidents or would accounts be closed down and information about users’ identities turned over? There is a huge difference between discussing politics in other countries and politics in your own country. The latter could get you unfriended and if its seen as too extreme, probably banned too.