I'd meant to post this video of the Ignite talk I gave at O'Reilly's Tools of Change conference this past February. It was tough adjusting to the pacing and format of an Ignite talk (you get 20 slides, with a new slide automatically advancing every 15 seconds), hopefully I'll have a chance to give this one again.
According to documents Facebook filed ahead of its IPO, their average revenue per global user works out to just under five bucks a year. That's a number that'll surely grow over time (and in fact it has to, if they're going to be worth the $100 billion or so they're expected to IPO at), but the very fact that there is a specific dollar amount I'm worth to them made me wonder: why can't I just pay Facebook that amount per year and opt out of them sharing my personal data? (Not to mention get out of having to look at ads or deal with any lame marketing.) I already spend a lot more than $5 per year on a lot of services, so it certainly wouldn't be a burden for me to do so, and I'd surely gain a lot from protecting my privacy. I know the answer, or at least I think I know the answer, which is that offering a premium membership like that would only make it glaringly for obvious for everyone the business Facebook is really in, and that tension between appearances and reality might undermine the whole operation.
Now I quit using Facebook a couple of years ago, and don't miss it at all, but I certainly see the value in having a platform for sharing stuff with family and friends and tracking my social relationships. The fundamental problem is that Facebook's business model is to leverage those relationships and the content and data that flow out of them in order to create a gigantic online advertising and marketing machine. It's a cliche to say it, and we've all probably read this a few times by now, but with Facebook the users are the products being sold.
So if Facebook won't take my $5 in exchange for protecting my privacy, maybe there's an opportunity for someone else to build an alternative. You'd have to do something really difficult, and that's require people to pay to use it, but you'd also be building a business where the users are your customers, and you'd be focused on protecting their privacy and data, rather than selling it, and at the end of the day you'd be answerable to them (or at least their pocketbooks). I'm not holding my breath, but ultimately we need to be aware of the trade-offs we're making and that sometimes you have to be the customer if you want to be treated like.
I had a goal of hosting open office hours at least once a month. I didn't manage it last month -- the holidays made things a little too hectic -- but I am scheduling them for this month. If you're in or near New York and want to get thirty minutes with me, please sign up here.
I donated my original OLPC XO-1 to the Columbus School for Girls today. I bought one when they were first available via the Give One Get One program back in 2007, but it'd be mainly sitting in a closet since then. It wouldn't boot when I tried to fire it up the other day, and after a little sleuthing discovered that these early models had an issue with their Real Time Clock battery if they weren't used regularly. There's a fix, but it's more trouble than it's worth, so after some searching online I found that the Columbus School for Girls has a program where they repair broken OLPCs and bring them, along with new ones that are donated, to a school in the Caribbean. Seemed like it'd find a good home there, and I was very glad to find a program that does something like this.