Todays Revolutionaries Become Tomorrows Dictators

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Todays Revolutionaries Become Tomorrows Dictators

I think Mark Zuckerberg has got a good instinctive gut, I highly rate him, but I think over time he’s lost his revolutionary edge.

When Zuckerberg was at Harvard, students wanted the university to develop an internal website that would include photos of people and their contact details. The University was reluctant and Zuckerberg created Facemash. It was popular. Servers crashed. Facemash was shut down. Zuckerberg was slated and apologised. Shortly afterwards, he set up Facebook. Traction. Left Harvard. Moved to San Fran. Changed history. We’ve all been part of what followed.

A revolutionary holds on to a worldview, an ideal and a belief that they live and sacrifice for. Happy to push through the pain to see something new; they’re not intimidated by the old dictators.

Zuckerberg has stated on many occasions how he is passionate about making the world a more open place. I believe him. I admire him. But I’m now questioning more of his decisions than I used to.

Everyone has the capacity to stray away from their beliefs; after all we’re all human. And when your business has gone through an IPO and the worlds eyes are watching your financial results, a companies self-interest can end up seeming more important than your values. Maintaining profit share, dominance and control is considered by many to be good in order to thrive financially. Your thinking can shift, so that ‘the means’ ends up justifying ‘the ends’.

Perhaps, some may argue, it’s OK to move slightly from some of your values if it means you can deliver on most of them? Lets not be idealistic about it- it is a business after all, it ain’t a kumbaya sing song. Most people wouldn’t have any problems with that. Satisfy your shareholders, maintain your position, and keep a good percentage of your customers happy.

However, as we have seen with political revolutionaries who are supported by foreign powers when trying to topple dictators, these decisions can later be regretted. These revolutionaries lose sight of their cause, and control the very people they fought to set free. If you look at Facebook’s treatment of its Instagram users, there are many who are left angry and disillusioned by Facebook’s controlling behaviour.

David Meyer wrote: ‘Instagram has some nerve. In case you missed it, the Facebook subsidiary has unveiled new terms of service that give it the right to put users’ photos into ads and even sublicense them to third parties. These adverts are now being rolled out.

Many left Instagram angry, with some articles reporting that Instagram had lost half their daily users last December, although some more recently have said that was down to seasonal changes. But slowly, the danger is there, that today’s revolutionaries become tomorrow’s dictators. And this trend has been happening for a while amongst these incredible tech giants, and this change is seen most notably at Facebook.

There are many examples of this we could explore from this last year, and not just exclusive to Facebook; for instance the recent Google move to work to show names alongside adverts comes to mind. One of the other Facebook decisions of 2013, I’ve questioned is not allowing the Twitter owned ‘Vine’ app to pull in the data from your Facebook friends.

Back in January Josh Constine wrote in Techrunch:

‘Of all Facebook’s data sets, it’s the social graph that’s truly unique. It’s spent nine years getting you to confirm who you know, and apparently it’s sick of handing over your friend list to competitors. This week it cut off both Twitter’s new photo app Vine and messaging app Voxer from Find Friends, Facebook’s API that lets you connect with Facebook friends on other apps.’

The rest of his article is a great read on this subject.

Where Zuckerberg is all about making the world a more open place, this move is in contrast to his strong values. I understand commercially why it was done. By resisting the move for them to be able to grow the network of Vine this way, it resists the additional applications that they are planning which make them a greater competition to Facebook. I wrote in January: ‘No doubt as has often been the case, Facebook will build the ‘Vine’ functionality and roll it out.’ They did and Instagram is the vehicle for that competition.

But is it in the best interest of an open world, or is it in the best interest of Facebook? Wasn’t that Mark’s underlying mission and motive.

I know this is not new behaviour. We’ve seen lots of challenges to this value system, but when does it cross the line.

I think it now has.

I’m not alone in my frustrations. As well as the thousands of Eric Schmidt photos going up and the thousands who have left Instagram, Tim Berners-Lee speaking at Davos earlier in the year said:

“The simplest thing in the world is to want to share … photographs with my LinkedIn friends and my Facebook colleagues. But each of these social networks is a silo. That’s a frustration. The dream is of a more open web. If I want to share something with you, it shouldn’t be the technology that gets in the way…”

I echo this call.

Why do all these companies operate in competitive silos? Aren’t we involved in social media. Doesn’t seem particularly social- feels like they’re too worried that someone else may steal my conkers. And there lies the problem for me. You stop taking risks and innovating in new directions, when you have more to lose than seemingly gain.

I guess it’s time for the new revolutionaries to arise. Let’s just hope they resist the pressures of dictatorship when they are the ones who become powerful.

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7 thoughts on “Todays Revolutionaries Become Tomorrows Dictators

  1. I think it is also a bit tough to know if this is really Zuk, or the huge phalanx of advisers.  FB is so dominant it seems to me that openness of the API would only increase its reach.

  2. I think it is also a bit tough to know if this is really Zuk, or the huge phalanx of advisers.  FB is so dominant it seems to me that openness of the API would only increase its reach.

    • Yes I agree. We don’t know- though either way i presume a CEO and majority SH, he still has the power to decide the route.

      I don’t see how they would lose by not being more open. I can see that in the short term they have challenges with other networks, but now that everyone knows that their social graph could be blocked, it will certainly make us think twice about basing a biz model around their social graph. You’d be silly to go without your eyes wide open.

  3. Great article. Lots to say on this topic, but for now
    I’ll just share this quote by Brad Hill, former CEO of AOL (so he knows a thing
    or two about the eventual demise of seemingly impenetrable Internet silos!):
    ‘When Facebook or Twitter cuts the cord which integrates our friendship circles
    (the friend-finding part of their API), it becomes frustratingly clear that we
    are owned. We don’t freely own our social connections across the internet.
    Social users are owned assets, like dollars in the bank, guarded by platform
    policies and hedged by developmental roadmaps that seek to cut off competing
    apps at the knees.’

    • Yes- lovely quote on this one Tom! The problem is we do feel controlled. I think Zuckerberg is canny enough to know when the tipping point of dis-satisfaction is there and pivot at that stage. He’s been masterfully dancing this dance for some years.

      But it is a dangerous move to control people’s social graph. If they ever made it possible to export your data- that’s when I think they could face more serious problems. That’s equally why they won’t. Most people are generally too lethargic to care currently and that’s why they’ve got us by the short and curlies.

      Just picked up the new book Think Like Zuck- and hoping to get the author on for a podcast, so we can ask her her take on some of these questions…

  4. Great article. Lots to say on this topic, but for now
    I’ll just share this quote by Brad Hill, former CEO of AOL (so he knows a thing
    or two about the eventual demise of seemingly impenetrable Internet silos!):
    ‘When Facebook or Twitter cuts the cord which integrates our friendship circles
    (the friend-finding part of their API), it becomes frustratingly clear that we
    are owned. We don’t freely own our social connections across the internet.
    Social users are owned assets, like dollars in the bank, guarded by platform
    policies and hedged by developmental roadmaps that seek to cut off competing
    apps at the knees.’

    • Yes- lovely quote on this one Tom! The problem is we do feel controlled. I think Zuckerberg is canny enough to know when the tipping point of dis-satisfaction is there and pivot at that stage. He’s been masterfully dancing this dance for some years.

      But it is a dangerous move to control people’s social graph. If they ever made it possible to export your data- that’s when I think they could face more serious problems. That’s equally why they won’t. Most people are generally too lethargic to care currently and that’s why they’ve got us by the short and curlies.

      Just picked up the new book Think Like Zuck- and hoping to get the author on for a podcast, so we can ask her her take on some of these questions…