When did Facebook become so uncool?

Something strange happened Monday on the Internet.

Facebook -- the once-underdog social network founded by a kid in a
hoodie in a dorm room -- may have officially cemented its status as a
titan of the tech establishment it once challenged.

What changed? Facebook -- no longer a feisty startup but a
3,000-person, soon-to-be-public corporation with $3.9 billion in cash
and an $85 billion to $100 billion valuation -- spent $1 billion to
gobble up a much-smaller competitor, the photo-sharing app Instagram.

When it did so, it stirred up a caldron of ill will that the "People
of the Internet" have been harboring toward Mark Zuckerberg's once-hip
company. Some Instagram users said they were downloading all of their
photos and then deleting them from the app just so Facebook couldn't
get its hands on them.

Pundits weren't kind to Facebook, either. David Horsey of the Los
Angeles Times, writing about the Instagram purchase, noted that the
company is looking more and more like "Big Friend," a gentler
variation on George Orwell's all-seeing Big Brother. Data indicate
others share that view, too. A new poll, conducted before the
Instagram news, found that 28% of Americans have an unfavorable view
of Facebook -- twice as many as disapprove of Apple and nearly three
times as many as Google.

This backlash highlights a new reality: As a technological juggernaut,
Facebook is more Microsoft than Tumblr. To use a musical analogy
employed on Twitter, it's the Nickelback to Instagram's Bon Iver.

Facebook and Instagram's images couldn't be more different, so it's
tempting to say that this Goliath-buys-David event is a turning point
for Facebook. But people have been writing about Facebook losing its
mojo for years now. In 2009, AdWeek ran this headline: "Is Facebook
getting uncool for 18-24s?" A year later, mainstream news websites
noted the phenomenon of parents and grandparents joining Facebook,
scaring off younger people.

"It's official, Facebook is becoming uncool," CBS declared.

It's hard to pinpoint the moment when Facebook's image problem
started. Maybe it was when users realized how much data Facebook was
collecting about them. Maybe it was when CEO Zuckerberg started to
seem less like that geeky, counterculture college kid and more like a
run-of-the-mill billionaire.

But it is possible to take a look at the conversation and tease out a
few factors that seem to have led to Facebook's current status as an
inescapable, perhaps Orwellian, Internet giant.


First: Money. Nothing leads to public skepticism quite like a few
billion dollars in pocket change. Compare that kind of situation at
Facebook to Instagram, which as CNNMoney notes, hadn't monetized its
product. It didn't support advertisements and apparently didn't sell
its users' data.

Facebook, on the other hand, is accused of profiting wildly on the
backs of the 850 million people who share personal details about their
lives on the social network. For more on that, see The Wall Street
Journal's recent feature "Selling You on Facebook," which analyzes the
info that Facebook apps collect.

Second: Size. As companies get bigger, people tend to question their
motives. Google is a good example of this view. The Silicon Valley
company once was the darling of the Internet -- the search engine that
didn't have ads on its homepage and declared its company ethos was
"Don't Be Evil." As the tech blog Gizmodo writes, Google "built a very
lucrative company on the reputation of user respect."

That was easy enough when Google was small. As it grew, however, some
people started to lose faith in the company -- and to question its
motives.

Gizmodo: "In a privacy policy shift, Google announced today that it
will begin tracking users universally across all its services --
Gmail, Search, YouTube and more -- and sharing data on user activity
across all of them. So much for the Google we signed up for."

People never talked that way about Instagram, which only had 13
employees and 33 million users. It's the kind of company journalists
love to use the word "scrappy" to describe.

Third: Trust. As the company has grown, some people have come to trust
Facebook so little that they're pulling photos from Instagram in
advance of the takeover.

According to Megan Garber at The Atlantic, 25,000 people visited
Instaport's site in six hours on Monday after the news broke, compared
with 400 people on a normal day. Instaport is a service that helps
people pull photos off Instagram for home storage.

"You could read that spike, on the one hand, as a mass freak-out on
the part of users who don't trust Facebook -- despite Mark
Zuckerberg's promises -- with their networks and memories," Garber
writes. "You could also read it as an insurance play, a
just-to-be-safe move on the part of people who want to feel sure that
their photos are secure."

Mistrust of Facebook stems in part from concern about its privacy
policies, which have been described as overly confusing. Facebook
itself acknowledges that privacy concerns could trip up the company in
the future.

In its initial public offering filing with the U.S. Securities and
Exchange Commission, the company wrote: "We have in the past
experienced, and we expect that in the future we will continue to
experience, media, legislative, or regulatory scrutiny of our
decisions regarding user privacy or other issues, which may adversely
affect our reputation and brand."

Finally: The cool factor. Maybe it's less that people see Facebook as
evil and more that the site just isn't as cool as it used to be --
partly because it's so popular and also because it's not the new kid
on the block anymore. Zuckerberg launched Facebook in 2004, which is
eons ago in Internet time. MySpace and Friendster -- all of Facebook's
predecessors -- didn't survive (or didn't continue to grow) for this
long.

Instagram, meanwhile, was founded in late 2010 and was only in recent
months becoming part of the zeitgist. iPhone-toting hipster types
liked the app for its mobility -- you cold post photos easily from
your phone -- and filters that gave their pics a retro, vintage vibe.

"Instagram is, in a word, cool. Facebook is losing its 'cool',
rapidly," wrote Allan Swann at the Computer Business Review.

Instagram managed to create a cache in part from its status as an
underground hit. Even with tens of millions of users, the app was
praised by reviewers as intimate -- a place, true or not, where it was
safe to post personal photos and share stories with a relatively small
network of friends. (Just to throw in some data: I have 815 Facebook
friends but only 67 people whom I follow on Instagram, and I actually
know almost all of them.)

It's not clear that any of that will change for Instagram. Zuckerberg
says the app will continue to operate as a product that's independent
from Facebook and that people won't have to post Instagram photos to
Facebook just because the company owns the app. But the backlash
helped crystallize the idea that Facebook no longer is seen as the
always-cool company that everybody implicitly trusts.

"Some Instagram fans are acting as if this is a tragedy," Horsey of
the Los Angeles Times writes of the acquisition. "They liked the idea
that there was a little corner of the online world where they could
gather and be outside the reach of the Zuckerberg empire. ..."

There was a time when people clamored to be part of Zuckerberg's
network, which launched at first only for Harvard students. But now,
as the Instagram backlash shows, Facebook has long stopped being an
exclusive club. It's seen as the big, bland company that the app's
users worry will ruin the cool thing they had going.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/10/tech/social-media/facebook-uncool-instagram/index.html

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