Why Lying, Not Beacon, Was Facebook's Biggest Blunder

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The apology is appreciated, but the 'simple' motivation behind Beacon? We're not buying it.

Last week Mark Zuckerberg apologized for the rollout of Beacon, a Facebook feature that allows users to share online activities conducted off Facebook with their Facebook friends. In a trite blog post, he said Facebook had made mistakes creating the product, introducing the product and responding to the user uproar. He sounded humbled (and for a guy who has promised an advertising 'revolution,' that's not an easy thing to do). But Mr. Zuckerberg lost us when he said the benign goal of Beacon was "to build a simple product to let people share information across sites with their friends." Sure, and TV networks only air ads because they think you might like to know about that sale at JC Penney or that new flavor of McDonald's milkshake.
Zuckerberg: Tough to buy his claim that Beacon's goal was 'to let people share information ... with friends.'
Zuckerberg: Tough to buy his claim that Beacon's goal was 'to let people share information ... with friends.' Credit: Steve Maller

The reality is Facebook needs to make money -- and Beacon was a way for it to sneak in ads. Introducing more commercial chatter on its network gave Facebook more places against which it could sell advertising. Beacon is, as you might recall, a pretty important prerequisite for Facebook's new social-ads system.

Everyone knows the interests of advertisers and users rarely align -- and Facebook is putting a lot of trust in its partners to do the right thing, whether that be alerting users when their actions could be shared via Beacon (which Overstock.com did not do) or creating Facebook pages with useful content rather than useless marketing speak (who wants to take that bet?).

If Facebook wants to be as revolutionary as Google, perhaps it needs to adopt the users-first mantra of its neighbor down the road. Google is always about users, users, users -- figuring that in the end the advertising will come if the audience does. It has even reduced the number of ads and seen a lift in monetization as a result.

Sure, Mark, we know it's going to be hard to make enough money to justify that $15 billion valuation, but that's the nature of the beast you created. My guess is many of your other users get it too: You provide them a service and need to make money somewhere. But while you're figuring that out, do us a favor: Don't lie to us along the way.
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