Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Mark’s Manifesto

Ben Thompson, in a well-considered response to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 5,800-word essay:

My deep-rooted suspicion of Zuckerberg’s manifesto has nothing to do with Facebook or Zuckerberg; I suspect that we agree on more political goals than not. Rather, my discomfort arises from my strong belief that centralized power is both inefficient and dangerous: no one person, or company, can figure out optimal solutions for everyone on their own, and history is riddled with examples of central planners ostensibly acting with the best of intentions — at least in their own minds — resulting in the most horrific of consequences; those consequences sometimes take the form of overt costs, both economic and humanitarian, and sometimes those costs are foregone opportunities and innovations. Usually it’s both.

Thompson’s proposed remedy is to limit Facebook’s monopoly power by restricting their ability to acquire new subsidiaries and networks, allow for portability of friends between networks, and reconsider the amount of data they collect from users.

But all of this is, I think, extremely unlikely to reduce Facebook’s ability to exploit and expand their monopoly. Their biggest lock-in is that everyone else is already there. Even if everyone could conceivably migrate their entire Facebook history to a similar network, I doubt that they would without some significant impetus to do so. Every social network with an entrenched user base has that kind of stickiness. Think of all of the people who threaten to quit Twitter after every transgression — it’s relatively easy for users to move to an alternative platform, but it’s difficult for the community to move en masse without a reason. Put more simply: users don’t abandon social networks until the social networks abandon them.