When did Facebook capture the web?

I’ve resisted signing up to Facebook; even a couple of years back, I was not convinced by their privacy policies, and tales of people finding it hard to have their information deleted.

Judging by the torrent of stories about privacy in recent months, I probably made a wise decision. It’s not that I’m not familiar with social networking – I use Twitter, and have been involved in earlier forms, like email lists and newsgroups for over twenty years.

But, frankly, the idea of Facebook never appealed. To people who say “But old school friends can find you,” I reply “They can use Google.” I’m a very Google-able person, thanks to the amount of stuff I’ve written over the years. You’ll find me, and you’ll find a photographer in the north of England with the same name.

I also tend to think that, actually, if I wanted to keep in touch with someone, I’d have done it anyway, without Facebook. My mobile number’s not changed since I got it in 1995; I’m not hard for someone to find.

I don’t want to sign up

Now though, at a time when people are encouraging others to terminate their accounts, and privacy concerns are paramount, I’m noticing an opposing pressure, with companies trying to drive people to Facebook.

The makers of my favourite cigars, Alec Bradley, post a lot on Twitter, and include links to various material which I’m sure would be very interesting, if only I could read it. I can’t. Because it’s on Facebook, and you have to sign up to be able to look at it.

(Update: 2nd June. I pestered them on Twitter and now you can see the content Alec Bradley posts on Facebook, without signing up.)

And right now, part of the Underground station at Liverpool Street are plastered with adverts for Marker’s Mark bourbon, complete with ‘London likes this’ button. The only URL? One for their page on Facebook.

Frankly, the only thing you’ll get me drinking on that front is a nice Islay single malt, but even so, I find it a little alarming that, rather than putting information on the public internet, companies are choosing to put it on Facebook. And, even worse, putting it on Facebook in a way that ensures non-members can’t even see it.

How many companies are going down this route, and how many potential customers are they ignoring by doing it?

Weren’t the days of walled gardens supposed to be over years ago? Wasn’t the failure of AOL a sign (amongst other things) that people were better off with unfettered access to the wider web, rather than locked down content that only some people could see? Are we really supposed to be happy that a single company will be responsible for at least a part of the online presence of many major brands?

It’s not so hard to set up a website, or a blog. It’s not difficult to make your information available to everyone. That’s what the internet’s about, surely?

Personally, I just don’t think it’s good marketing to put your company in a situation where customers can’t find out about your products unless they’re prepared to sign up to a web site that has a pretty dubious record when it comes to respecting privacy.

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