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Set Them Free

(August 06, 2007) If you create something, the only way to make it grow is to let it go. Sending people away is the only way to get them to come back. The greatest platforms don't ever try to lock in their customers. Pure innovation requires pure freedom. If you love somebody, set them free.

These are the underlying guidelines for the development of successful web enterprises and networks. They are really hard to execute successfully. In fact, the more momentum you have, the easier it is to slip into the sort of grasping that destroys the things you want to create.

The problem is further complicated by the range of perceptions you must incorporate as you grow. The paradoxical thing about fast growth is that every step requires that you learn to incorporate the opposite of what you just believed. Sound crazy?

So, Harry Joiner, who is a responsible and effective recruiter, just got banned from using the facebook. Why? Because when he tried to emulate Robert Scoble's usage of the facebook, he tripped over anti-spam protections. Scoble himself (which must have been quite a wound) joined in the hazing of Mr. Joiner.

At the very same time, I was having a conversation with my son about the commercialization of the Facebook (He and his friends - who consider themselves indigenous to Facebook - all call it "the" facebook. He says you can tell someone who is new because they drop the "the".). He figured that the facebook had to make money so they would be making deals with people who would buy and sell his information. "They always wreck a good party", he said.

The third angle in this parade of conflicting realities is the customer service desk at Facebook. As the company's growth continues, what the company is will be hard for existing employees to figure out. Is it the commercial environment that Joiner seeks? Is it the anti-commercial environment that customer service pretends? Is it the tragedy of the commons that my son imagines? Is it all three simultaneously? Is it something different (say, ummm, a platform)?

Whose righteous indignation is right? There sure seems to be plenty of it.

As hinted here, a lot of the social contract associated with services like the Facebook is still under deep negotiation. My son, who has been using the Facebook for a long time, is a part of a generation of citizens who expect their institutions to morph with rapid growth. The services they rely on for communications (email, IM cell phones, the Facebook) are always in various states of evolution. A relationship with the service providers is an ongoing negotiation. The users always hope for the sorts of platitudes that I opened this article with.

Commercial users find ongoing reciprocal negotiation to be the antithesis of good business judgment. The want to know the rules and how to play within them. Often, they want to know how to legally break them. Their procedural best bets depend on a fixed and level playing field.

Typically, communications companies are more closely aligned with their users than they are with their (potential, in this case) customers. When the company is changing rapidly, policy has a hard time catching up. Emotionally charged areas like "spam" are particularly hard to keep under some sort of policy control. Everyone believes that they are an expert on spam (my son, Harry and the customer service guy at the Facebook). Sadly, they all seem to subscribe to the "spam is something that somebody else does" definition.

From here, the conflict seems to be caused by grasping for control. My son and his friends are leaving the Facebook while Harry and the customer service desk fight over who is right. The Facebook has to figure out who their customers are and support them. It looks like they've made the decisions required to loser their original users. This episode makes it seem like they want to lose the new ones, too.


Workforce Woes So Far:

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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