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January 19, 2011

Being a tech company in this world is hard. I’m sure it’s not so hard when your piles of money can soak up your tears, but man… it’s certainly hard enough.

Recently Facebook has made some changes that have stirred up some controversy, but to understand that it helps to have a little bit of background on Facebook itself. Let me give you a quick recap of Facebook’s history from the perspective of the pundits who actually spend their time writing about this stuff (yep, that was a self-burn. Zing!)

Okay, so Facebook came out and it was awesome because it didn’t exist before, and Friendster and Linked In were crap. Then it was even awesomer (not a real word) because everybody in the world, including your grandmother and her dead cat found out about it and used it.

Then suddenly it was less awesome as pundits realized that people were pretty much willingly uploading their entire lives into a private network for the deep rampant plundering of our corporate monkey overlords.

And then it really sucked when said monkey overlords began to sell out faster than a… wait, I probably can’t say that here… well, when they began to sell out fast.

At this point imagine the echo of a million nerd voices crying in unison that the world was unfair, and that Facebook should never have been a closed proprietary platform that kept your information secret for their own selfish midnight trysts. And at the same time, imagine an equally loud cry from the people who actually use Facebook for something vaguely useful, also complaining how their privacy had been somehow compromised, and how they were being whored out, and how they didn’t agree to this… except how they sort of did when they uploaded their entire lives to a PRIVATE COMPANY.

Which brings us to now, in an effort to expand their reach as well as appease some of these weeping masses, Facebook added some additional private information (phone numbers & addresses) to their openly accessible API (for developers) which would allow more developers to literally create more, uh, Facebooky type of stuff.

Now you would think this would please somebody, but of course in reality it pleased nobody. Instead even more torches were lit, and pitchfork production went into high demand. The question is why? Did Facebook entirely miss something? Shouldn’t somebody be happy? Anybody?

Well of course not. The simple reality is capitalistic monopolies with their own private agendas don’t make anybody happy (except themselves). And in some senses, this is why empires fall. We build them up to what they are and then it’s in our nature to mistrust and resent them, at which point we sit back and gleefully watch them crumble.

This isn’t the fairest cycle in the world, but it’s why even something like Facebook has a date of expiration. And how it was easier for Apple when they were the underdog, and how Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto has pretty much just been turned into “Be Evil”

Visionaries are the ones with the right pieces at the right time to bring their vision to fruition. This usually happens when you throw in a good dash of OCD and maybe a bit of narcissism and a lot of determination.

They are the Gates, the Jobs, the Zuckerbergs and while we depend on them for pushing the status quo we usually harbour a pretty significant grudge against them at the same time. In the case of Facebook have they actually done anything wrong? Do they really deserve the backlash?

I honestly don’t think it really matters. We don’t appreciate capitalistic monopolies having such a controlling impact on our lives, and when the size of these companies reaches a point where it starts making us uncomfortable, we start reacting.

It is for these reasons that Facebook will find a certain level of success over the future years, but will find it hard to find success in new areas regardless of how good their offerings are. Facebook messaging? Facebook beacon? Examples of ideas that might work with a startup but instead will struggle more due to how we feel about Facebook than because of any actual failings of the offerings themselves.

But I’m sure our corporate overlords don’t really mind too much, because if we do hurt their feelings a little bit they can always cry themselves to sleep on their giant beds of money.