Rethinking models based on data

EFE, the Spanish state news agency, contacted me to discuss what seems to be Facebook’s latest PR crisis, about the relaunch of its new Atlas advertising platform with cross-device targeting and offline sales tracking.

In reality, this is something Google has been doing for more than ten years, but in the case of Facebook, where, instead of “simply” looking for something we reveal the most intimate details of our life, many might think that there is cause for concern.

Facebook’s problems are rooted in something we have talked about recently, which is that people are beginning to question services whose revenue stream comes from obtaining information about our habits that is used to put advertising in front of us, models where the user isn’t a client, but a product, a mere pair of eyeballs attached to a credit card, segmented and offered up to advertisers.

At the same time, Facebook’s name change policy has sparked protests about privacy, particularly from the LGBT community, which is now showing considerable interest in initiatives such as Ello; it will be interesting to see whether this trend continues.

In just a few days since its closed beta launch, the social network that promises not to advertise, not to sell your data, not to force you to use real names, and to have zero tolerance toward abuse, has been inundated with requests to join; at some moments, as high as 27,000 per hour. Clearly, defining yourself in terms of not being like Facebook, as the antithesis of everything that Mark Zuckerberg’s creation has become, could prove a winning strategy.

Only time will tell. For the moment, Ello is available in a very simple beta model, and lacking all of the most basic options one might reasonably expect. If it isn’t going to have advertising, then it can only survive as a pay service, or freemium, which is what the company seems to be suggesting. At the same time, the fact that it is financed via risk capital, which obviously will expect a return on its investment when the number of users is “sold” on to the next investor to create value out of it has led some analysts to question Ello’s business model. In response, the company’s co-founder says simply that they hate advertising and want to bring about a shift in values and to be free to do what it wants.

Ello could end up being one of those experiments in innovation: it has certainly caught the imagination of the usual suspects prone to try out these kinds of things, and it will be interesting to see whether there is sufficient interest to try out what certainly seems a provocative idea to overcome what has already become known as YASN (Yet Another Social Network).

What certainly seems clear is that, beyond the novelty of a new social network or protests against Facebook for this or that reason, we are seeing huge numbers of people question a model thanks to the power of instant messaging or disposable services like Snapchat, which for many people are why we are where we are now. If things continue like this, we could be about to witness something really important.

(En español, aquí)

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