By Bruce Fikowski
CEO, Get Assist, Inc.
The once-promising potential for a truly purposeful social media experience devolved into a sweeping, ill-defined wilderness of unwanted content and promotions.
The current model in which users exchange intimate personal information for free access to popular websites no longer works, as if it ever really did.
A recent column in The Wall Street Journal says to accept that online privacy is dead. It even proposes to task the tech giants — those same companies who are out with daily emails of warnings about data breaches — with safely managing and protecting all user info.
Fox, please guard the henhouse while we’re in it.
How did such an auspicious proposition of connecting everyone in the world become such a massive disappointment? Easy. Lack of privacy and purpose.
Mark Zuckerberg allegedly founded Facebook in his dorm room to rank the attractiveness of undergrads at Harvard. In the rush for advertising dollars, it became a platform for connecting with strangers, promotions for unnecessary products and random wide net requests for recommendations on services about which we know nothing. The beauty contest at least served a purpose.
Yelp originally meant to aggregate customer experiences to provide people with information about small businesses. Now it is an anonymous, spite-filled Yellow Pages for dissatisfied patrons who are out to destroy the establishments that serve them. The creators of “South Park” even wrote an Emmy-nominated parody of the site and its patrons.
Watching videos on YouTube felt pleasant enough until endless advertisements — now with commercials interspersed within videos — upended the channel. How-To videos for replacing the transmission fluid in a 2012 Ford Edge have never felt so painful.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
How about big social never collects and sells user information in the first place? Sites would offer advertisers nothing other than the most basic stats, and hackers would have little identity or financial data available to steal.
Let’s start by dispensing with the entertainment factor of Twitter and Facebook. They eschew privacy by design because its creators want it to speak to the masses. After the curtains fall on an act, as with real life, human interactions should remain private experiences unless people want to broadcast them globally.
Second, setting accounts to private doesn’t necessarily mean that an account is private. Facebook supposedly separates its new “Dating” app from existing user profiles, but it remains connected to the underlying account to pull background and experiences. Furthermore, sites still mine for personal information from private accounts to sell to third parties.
Third, the opinions of neighbors carry far greater weight when deciding upon a local service provider than nameless folks on the other side of the continent. User 333FrequentTraveller from Montreal is likely a fine enough fellow, but his comments on TripAdvisor don’t really add value to how I like my steak cooked at The Keg.
Finally, no need exists to store personal or financial data other than to sell it to advertisers and marketers. Secure third-party apps such as PayPal and Braintree are effective and plentiful.
Let’s reclaim social as the greatest communications tool of the 21st Century and start over with a purpose. Consumers need not bare their souls online for free stuff. Life can become so much easier, enjoyable and more manageable for everyone when we interact directly with our family, friends and neighbors. Many of them also happen to represent the hundreds of thousands of small businesses across Canada.
Other business models provide revenue such as subscriptions, sponsors acknowledging that they are paying for content or plain, old-fashioned investing in less intrusive vehicles to promote their wares.
The communications potential of social networking remains limitless. That is, if we keep it private and use it purposefully.
Bruce Fikowski is the CEO of Get Assist, Inc., Canada’s fastest-growing social media network with offices in Edmonton, Vaughan, Mississauga, Scarborough, Calgary and Winnipeg.