Facebook: The Free Sharing Website That Wants to Charge You for Sharing

They want you to pay for the privilege of them selling your personal information.

Photo by Robert Scoble

Whether you spend your entire day logged in, aimlessly sifting through strangers' profiles, or purposefully don't have an account and tell everyone you possibly can about it (you guys are the worst), you'll know Facebook is one of the most popular websites ever created. The global coffee house is the second most visited site after Google and boasts 800 million active users. That's more than 10 percent of the entire world population, or roughly the amount of people who threw up blood when they heard that Will.i.am was the first musician to have a song played on Mars.  

With those figures, it won't surprise you that the company is worth a shit-tonne of money, although Facebook seemingly aren't happy with the £3.4 billion in projected earnings this year, because they now want a shit-tonne more money. Remember when Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook's founder, as if I had to tell you that – said that his mission for Facebook was to "[make] things that help people connect and share what's important to them"? He clearly forgot to add: "Oh, as long as I can charge them out the ass for it." Although I suppose that wouldn't do much for the whole loved-up, one-nation, coalescence thing he's trying to project as a smokescreen for the "I know absolutely everything there is to know about you" reality.  

This past spring, users reported a vast drop in the volume of their Facebook fan page reach. That meant that everyone with a fan page – bloggers, landfill indie bands, minor internet celebrities with a pity-inducing amount of fans; EVERYONE – was losing out on page views. Where previously a blog post would be seen by 100 percent of users who had signed up to the page, it was now being seen by only a fraction of that. The same goes for individual users: while your timeline might still be inundated with photos of duckfaced girls and flexing lads, you've probably been denied the opportunity to watch a cool movie trailer or read an article posted by an actual friend.

That's because the website are introducing a new scheme where you have to pay £2 to £4 to sponsor your own individual posts, with fan pages having to pay a bucketload more, just so friends or fans can see the stuff they're posting. The company's other mantra is "It's free and always will be" and promotes itself as a social sharing network, only it's now definitely not free and they somehow believe that users are going to pay for the privilege of a few people looking at a video they like. They might not be wrong about those kids who incessantly post "Share and Like if you think every child in the world shouldn't be killed" images, but it doesn't quite seem like they've done enough market research into the rest of their users, who mostly couldn't care less about who sees whatever new Economist article or Soundcloud link they've posted.    

The amount of payment for a sponsored post depends on how many "Likes" that page has. After a bit of highly-advanced maths, I worked out that a fan page with around 50,000 Likes is going to be charged £125 to reach all 50,000 of those Facebook users. If that user posts 10 posts a day, every day, and sponsors them all, it’s going to cost them £456,000 a year. Aside from offending my poor pockets, that is also the sign of a company firmly planting its feet in social media capitalism, which is definitely a bad thing.

In an article in the New York Observer, Facebook's head of advertising, Gokul Rajaram, is quoted as saying: if you want to speak to the 80 to 85 percent of people who signed up to hear from you, “sponsoring posts is important”. That's totally fine if you're Tim Cook and can afford to pay the sponsor fee per post, but small business owners with already limited funds for advertising are going to be completely left in the lurch, potentially causing damage to their company because no one's going to know when they release their new line of inflatable bicycles, or whatever. 

Pretty much every website run by people who are aware of what's happening in the world uses some kind of Facebook widget or comments box – which potentially draw a load of traffic to their site, while also gaining Facebook immeasurable hits – but that once two-way, reciprocal deal is now turning sour. It's like putting your mate on guest-list to come see your band, then charging him full price when he comes to watch yours.

I used to like Facebook. Now, despite the fact I still type the address almost instantaneously every time I open my browser, I’m largely ambivalent. However, if Zuckerberg carries on trying to fill his pockets with the slavishly-earned cash of small businesses and the average user who guarantees his hefty pay packet, his social network is surely going to be left in the internet landfill, festering away while MySpace, Bebo and hi5 stroke its hair and lie that everything's going to be alright.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanbassil

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