If You’re Not Paying, You’re the Product

By | March 5, 2012

The Problem

They are exploiting us! Why we all work for Facebook for free

On this understanding we can certainly position the users of Facebook as laborers. If labor is understood as ‘value producing activity’, then updating your status, liking a website, or ‘friending’ someone, creates Facebook’s basic commodity. It produces marketing data about you, which they can leverage for market research purposes and to better target advertising you might be interested in. It also produces an audience, as your ‘friends’ receive updates, follow your links, or log on to Facebook to join a conversation. This is why Facebook adds ever new functions; Zuckerberg wants us to spend as much time on his platform as possible, as time is literally money.

A  Solution

Facebook needs to start paying us. Well, why not?

According to the analysis provided here, we’re each worth about $3.79 a year to Facebook. Facebook should keep about half of that and the rest should go back to us. And, no, I don’t think it should be apportioned equally. The people who really make effective use of Facebook — the people who really make Facebook happen — should get the bulk of that money.

Why should Facebook sacrifice half of their profits when we’ll all been working for them for free quite happily all these years?

Because it won’t go on.

Our entire economy is shifting; we’re going to be experimenting with a lot of different ways to organize ourselves in the coming years. (That whole coffee shop thing for starters.) One emerging idea is that of the prosumer, which is what we all are on Facebook.

Of course, as I have said elsewhere, you can’t base an entire economy on people playing Farmville, nor could you base it on people updating their status or sharing cute cat photos. But the economic worth of that activity is undeniable, and I’m not sure that Facebook (or LinkedIn or Google) can count on us to be content to give it away forever. EitherFacebook will start paying us, or someone else is going to start the next big social network, and it will cut its users in in a way that Facebook never did.

It is said that if you’re not paying for the service, you are the product. On the other hand, if the service provider recognizes that your contribution is valuable, and decides to start remunerating you accordingly, you become a partner.

That may well be the future of social networking.