Facebook is about to get waaaaaay more annoying; in an ongoing bid to capture as much of your personal information as early as possible, Facebook is going to let teenagers post publicly. Why this is happening, nobody knows: Even teenagers don’t like other teenagers. But Facebook has to collect that advertising revenue somehow.
But what if it didn’t? What if it had a guaranteed revenue source? What if Facebook…started charging?
The very idea is seemingly anathema to how most social networks are organized and run, but let’s face it; it’s unrealistic to assume the free ride will continue forever. As we’ve noted elsewhere, most social networks are terrible as businesses. Eventually, Facebook and Twitter, and Tumblr, and every other social network we currently use, is going to have to start charging or shut down.
Realistically, charging would create advantages for both Facebook and users. If every Facebook user gave it a dollar, and any Facebook subscription fee would have to be less than three dollars a month to work, Facebook would gross $1.2 billion every month. It makes about $5 billion a year now. Part of Facebook’s problem is that they can’t tell advertisers to go away or give you an ad-free feed; it’d be fiscal suicide. But if there were a class of users throwing FB a buck every month, guaranteeing it revenue, it’d be freed up to actually give users what they want.
It would give parents control; after all, teenagers aren’t allowed to have credit cards. And if Facebook offered other services as one-offs, like, say, being able to completely obliterate somebody from your profile, it’d probably have a stable and growing source of revenue.
Facebook won’t do this for various reasons. A big part of the site’s problem is that Mark Zuckerberg is, at root, a control freak who can’t bear to so much as give users the illusion they have control over the information they give his company. The idea of actually being accountable to users is probably something that makes Zuckerberg lie awake at night, sweat beading on his forehead. When Facebook begins to struggle and control starts to slip from his grasp, he’ll put a bullet in his company rather than let us heathens touch his stuff.
Secondly, even if there was an “elite” tier on Facebook, the backlash would be enormous; users go ballistic when the site undergoes cosmetic changes. Even if nothing changed on the “free” tier, there would still be lengthy rants about “extortion” and probably some loss of users. Since most social media companies bizarrely think of themselves as Google, losing users is their worst nightmare.
So, you won’t see subscriptions on Facebook or Twitter anytime soon. But, when they’re inevitably replaced, don’t be surprised if you have to give the new guys a dollar.
(Image courtesy of Bungalow Brian on Flickr)