San Francisco: Facebook is giving power to the people when it comes to deciding what to do with policies and products at the leading social-networking website.
Facebook on Thursday said it hopes that by giving its more than 175 million users a voice in how the service is run it will avoid the backlash and controversy that have greeted changes implemented by the company.
“This is all about us trusting our users and that we are all on the same page about where we want to go,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a telephone briefing with reporters.
Zuckerberg said Facebook is writing into its terms of service that it will notify each user to proposed changes at the online community and then open a forum for comments before deciding whether to proceed.
Plans that trigger controversial feedback will be voted on by Facebook citizens. “That is a pretty big move,” Zuckerberg said.
Facebook said the unusually democratic policy is being instituted because its users trust aspects of their private lives to its profile pages and develop a passionate sense of ownership in the online community.
“This is an unprecedented action,” said Privacy International director Simon Davies. “No other company has made such a bold move towards transparency and democratization. The devil will be in the detail but, overall, we applaud these positive steps and think they foreshadow the future of Web 2.0.”
Facebook has repeatedly been stung by protests to what it thought were beneficial or benign changes to the online service.
Facebook did an about-face last week and dropped a controversial change to its terms of service that triggered outcry from thousands of members of the social network.
Facebook had trimmed pages of legalese from what is fairly standard terms-of-service language giving it permission to store and use data people put on the website.
People complained that the wording gave Facebook rights to commandeer and reuse information from supposedly semi-private profile pages.
“We never really intended to give that impression and we feel really bad that we did ... We don’t own user data,” Zuckerberg said.
In 2007, Facebook users staged a revolt after the northern California Internet firm added Beacon software that tracks what members are buying and doing online and then shares it with selected friends. Facebook yielded to protests by giving members a way to shut Beacon off.
While Facebook is the most popular social-networking website, it has yet to make a profit. Microsoft in 2007 bought a 1.6% stake in Facebook for $240 million.
Internet firms can stumble by ceding control to users, according to analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.
“Democratic models sound really great, but in practice they tend to slow a company down dramatically,” Enderle said. “This will work until they start feeling a lot of competitive pressure, then they will abandon it.”
Customers tend to be more certain about things they don’t want than the things they do want, the analyst contends.
“Steve Jobs would never have customers vote on what he should do, yet he does a real fine job of guessing where customers want him to be,” Enderle said, referring to the Apple leader behind iPods, iPhones and Macintosh computers.