Try competing with Facebook

Tyler Cowen writes,

I would instead start with the sentence “Most Americans don’t value their privacy or the security of their personal data very much,” and then discuss all the ways that limits regulation, or lowers the value of regulation, or will lead many well-intended regulations to be circumvented. Next I would consider whether there are reasonable restrictions on social media that won’t just cement in the power of the big incumbents. Then I would ask an economist to estimate the costs of regulatory compliance from the numerous lesser-known web sites around the world. Without those issues front and center, I don’t think you’ve got much to say.

He is commenting on a scheme for regulating Facebook.

I would instead start like this:

You didn’t come up with the idea. You didn’t build the business. Now that it’s here, who the heck do you think you are telling them how to run it?

That is from a brand new essay, in which I offer up my idea for a Facebook competitor. I’m sure that folks at Facebook have thought of my ideas and discarded them, probably for very good reasons. But I would much rather see people thinking like competitors rather than like fantasy-despot regulators.

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15 Responses to Try competing with Facebook

  1. Mark says:

    I wouldn’t argue that people necessarily don’t value privacy; most don’t even realize how much their divulging voluntarily, some to their detriment.

    For example, I see people replying to questions like, “What is the name of your favorite pet?” or “What is your favorite movie?” What those who reply don’t understand it that scammers use questions like this to get you to divulge answers typical of security questions on web sites.

    Many are true trusting and not forward thinking.

    • Mark says:

      I wouldn’t argue that people necessarily don’t value privacy; most don’t even realize how much their divulging voluntarily, some to their detriment.

      For example, I see people replying to questions like, “What is the name of your favorite pet?” or “What is your favorite movie?” What those who reply don’t understand it that scammers use questions like this to get you to divulge answers typical of security questions on web sites.

      Many are true trusting and not forward thinking.

  2. Various says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t belong to Facebook, Instagram, etc. I thinks folks who expect some sort of rigorous privacy protectors from Facebook are naive. I think lots of people’s activities are misguided, but it’s up to these folks to decide what to do with their lives. As long as life and limb are not threatened, and I see no evidence of this risk with Facebook, I say let Facebook and it’s customers each decide how to move forward. Of course, the politicians can’t resist an opportunity to mess with things.

  3. edgar says:

    Excellent points that policy makers would be well advised to heed. The cynic in me, however, is prone to believe that social media will indeed be regulated and the result will be to buttress Facebook dominance while erecting barriers to entry to competitors. The usual sort of thing that regulations wind up doing. And the social institutional powers that be will likely attempt to repress any non-aligned competition. If I remember correctly there was once some social media platform that had a frog or something as a mascot which the powers that be suppressed by cutting internet access and declaring frogs to be fascist or something. No idea what that was about other than I suspect it was competition from parties that did not explicitly express fealty to the dominant social power wielders and so therefore had to be attacked and undermined relentlessly.

  4. Matthew Young says:

    Target a social network for high wealth users. Include bearer asset exchange via thumb printed, secure digital contracts. Let high wealth users form consortia to price entry and exit from the network. You will take all the hugh valued ad space from Zuck, let high wealth users limit the ads they want.

    But the key is digital bearer asset exchange and the social network offers digital notary services. Wipes out the whole gang up there. This social network tAkes out half of central banking along with it, it is a prequalified, digital bearer network, sell anything in units of anything.

    • collin says:

      Is that a little bit of Linkedin? Although it is a lot more profession but it is fairly close for successful business people.

  5. JK Brown says:

    Facebook has obviously weaponized data collection and metrics. And as such can target people who believe they are below the radar. But in this connected world, there’s not a lot of places to hide.

    A few years ago, a dog showed up at my house. I live in the country, houses a not close. Him showing up at my door as probably facilitated by a well-meaning but annoying woman who had tried to find his home earlier in the day after picking him up. It was a Saturday before a holiday, so no animal control. I got the number and vet off his rabies tag. Unfortunately, we were in TN and the vet was in CO. But also, fortunately the vet was still open in CO so I got an owner name, but a possible location that was 20 miles cross country from me. I don’t remember how, but I got on the idea that the people had moved rather than were visiting. I drove around looking for people who seemed to be looking for a dog. I put up flyers at the convenience stores. Near where the lady said she picked up the dog, was an old farm with several houses on a private road. One of those houses had recently sold according to Zillow. No luck finding anyone out in that area but the recently sold house had animal cages out front. Later in the afternoon I took another drive thinking maybe the owners had to work earlier and might be out looking. Guy was out in front of the house on the private road, and being the old farmhouse it was right on the road. So I asked if he new the woman whose name the vet had given me. It was her husband. They had just moved in, the dog ran out a couple nights before and obviously got lost. They followed me to my house, dog jumped in the car and case closed.

    I spent far more time on the old-fashioned flyers and driving about than on the one phone call and Zillow search that bore fruit. And this was only over about 4 hours during which I mowed my large yard.

    A bit freaky how easy it all was to track down this person with just a little internet connectivity and intuition.

    Of course, Facebook would have the dog’s name, picture, all the owners, kids included, recent moves, whether they were at work, visiting family or at a movie, as well as the heart wrenching story of the dog’s disappearance to use.

  6. Les Cargill says:

    The better Facebook was Usenet. Restated, Facebook is a “worse is better” Usenet.

  7. Mikk Salu says:

    Very well written. I am so so tired of hearing how magnificent are Facebook algorithms, how they can control and influence or behavior, how they have developed “psychological weapons”.

    Facebook algorithms are very stupid. I don’t know why. Are people in charge of Facebook stupid(I suspect not) or are society and human interaction so complex that it is damn hard to build better algorithms (I suspect this is the case)?

  8. Tom G says:

    Well written, and I hope for some “FreemiBook” or other name does come up.
    Actually, names are quite tough and yet important.

    On the other hand, I’m fairly sure that FB is about to get regulated & saved/ protected.

    So while I think regulation is far less good than good competition, I’m 99% certain that some regulation is coming soon. And so the reality is that if I or you suggest “good regulation”, that also supports the whole regulation bandwagon. Nevertheless, at this point suggesting good regulation is likely to increase social utility more than unrealistic competition — at least until a really good competitor is actually happening.

    Finally, I understood that FB had previously made some gov’t deal where they could be fined up to $40k for violation of privacy, per violation. I’d be pretty happy for the maximum fines be levied to bankrupt FB as is, today ($40k * 80 mil = 3.2 trillion $$), and give all those whose privacy was violated majority ownership of the restructured FB, and allow them to decide between a few options. Including revising FB to be the Feemium company you propose.

    Maximum fines for violating data privacy now, will minimize privacy violations in the future. Tho most folks, most of the time, would be willing to give up privacy for convenience. Very anti-Lib, in theory. Perhaps much less so in practice.

    • Arnold Kling says:

      For a name, I like “Shmacebook,” as in “Facebook, Shmacebook.” Probably get taken to court for it, so maybe just “Shmace” would be better.

  9. Colin with One L says:

    The core components of social networking apps are identity, connection, and content. I.e., they are a channel through which you can publish content to people who you know are actually your friends, and you can receive content from same. Everything else is just elaboration of those.

    In principle, there’s not a ton of reason why this user experience need to be provided by a single central orchestrator versus a more peer-to-peer architecture, somewhat like SMS/MMS/iMessage. These have all the components, just a lot less functionality. WhatsApp and Instagram got acquired by Facebook for huge valuations precisely because they had achieved orbital velocity building on these core elements.

    I don’t see it clearly yet, but I suspect there is an alternative approach for all this where you use blockchain to validate identity and pass encrypted content among connections. This eliminates the need for a central orchestrator who holds everything and knows everything. You need a funding model to pay for the end-user app (which could be a straightforward $10/yr app store app), and for the coordinating servers, but I suspect the cost of operating those could be sufficiently trivial as to not be an obstacle.

  10. Bryan Willman says:

    Society as a whole, and government in particular, did not invent coal mining, coal burning power plants, electric grids, the internal combustion engine, aircraft, or medicine.

    Who came up with it is irrelevent, the real world power to regulate (however badly) and ban (with at least some level of success) is very much vested in a large pool of people who didn’t come up with anything, let alone facebook, and don’t understand it in any important way. It doesn’t matter, they are the Nation State…..

    Since governments (and the people who vote for them) take a dim view of rivals to their power, we may expect facebook, google, etc. to end up being regulated like utilities.

    (As Uber and the like are already facing, and will continue to face.)

  11. Jeremy, Alabama says:

    One could start by not using Facebook. Seems like pretty small potatoes to me. Just … stop. There, I feel better already.

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