‘So I dug up a head shot and within minutes, I’d created my own Facebook Page. Whereupon Facebook immediately asked me if I wouldn’t like to promote it. Not, of course, by genially informing a few close friends that I now had a public page; Facebook was inviting me to buy an ad.’
Like many people online, I’m using ‘free services’ to manage part of my life and exchange ideas and information. You probably are, too. McArdle highlights Facebook, which has created an important new bulletin board where many of us meet. They’ve gathered a billion users in the last nine years by offering that ‘free’ space, and are now working on how to share and sell the information they’ve gathered, while still keeping the trust of their users. Not many people likely entered into that user agreement with a value proposition in mind.
What most businesses want is customers, visibility, and feedback in the form of analytics. They want eyeballs, and a place on the bulletin board. They sink money (very serious money) into marketing, and they want the most bang for their buck and for that marketing to be as targeted as possible. Facebook, like Google, can deliver targeted marketing for a good return on investment. Some Facebook users simply join, as McArdle points out, to promote or represent themselves.
McArdle, as a professional blogger/journalist, is part of the rise of a group of people who are shaping society by having shaped this new medium first, riding the new medium into the old journalism. Many bloggers/journalists are idea people. They watch, report, and explain events, especially the business of politics. There’s been a turf war between the old and new journalists, as well as a fight over ethics, facts and the business of journalism. Frankly, I respect journalists who follow Sayre’s Law, even when working on stories of potential importance.
The public remains skeptical. Disgusted, even.
Newspapers and print outlets are bleeding money as they used to manage the old bulletin boards that few people visit anymore. The profit margin was slim in most cases, but they got along selling ad space, subscriptions, and obituaries enough to fund investigative journalism and long-form journalism. Unsurprisingly, many newspapers haven’t adapted and have simply died, or are struggling to maintain their relevance.
This helps to explain why network news is rushing to cover the latest cat video or celebrity gossip. Ideological bias may not entirely account for why they appear more craven in the face of politicians. They have to follow the latest trend and chase viewers. They’ve been undercut as well.
I’m sympathetic to journalists and newspapermen in this way: The politician downtown who’s been using his campaign fund to fly a major donor for vacations will deny, deny, deny, until some pitbull of a journalist pins him to the bulletin board for everyone to see, using shoe-leather journalism and all the facts he can muster. This takes time and money, some courage and some concept of the public good, or at least a determination to get at the truth. This can be in the public interest.
What Facebook does is certainly in many people’s private interest: Catching up with a friend, or displaying those new baby pictures. Most of us have carved out a corner of the internet for ourselves, with maybe some idea in mind that it’s a bit like the public square. This virtual bulletin board in the public square is also in the interest of many businesses and professionals as well. Of course, it’s also attracted the attention of many politicians (profit is to business what tax revenue is to government). They want your money and support, too.
What about the public interest? Who decides what’s in the public interest?
Let me know what you think.
Addition: Wired piece on that Facebook study of your likes, which are public.
Another Addition: From Yakezie.com. How bloggers and journalists can help each other. Recommended.
****Wordpress (which I recommend) offers this blogger free services to voice my opinion and share my ideas. They’ve followed the same model: Design the software, attract users with a free platform, decide how and how much to monetize later. I can keep the WordPress platform, and host on my own server should I want to. It’s a value proposition. This kind of free clearly works for many people.
Lest you think I’m making the typical Left-Of-Center argument for a vaunted professional class curating the public good (why it’s them!), see here: Hate Is A Strong Word-Some Links On The BBC, The CBC, & NPR…Repost-From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’
Remember The Maine! The good old days…by malik2moon