Monday, 5 November 2012

What is the real price of Facebook?

 Today we’d be hard pressed to deny that to the public, Facebook is pretty much priceless, playing an undeniably large part in our daily lives. It allows both the public and companies to network efficiently, opening up new opportunities and options in both our personal and professional lives that would otherwise take anything from weeks to months. These new opportunities are created by driving visitors towards a particular website, offering a facility to regenerate old friendships, and providing a platform to forge new mutually beneficial relationships to further social or professional ends. In addition to this, Facebook is a driving force in the day-to-day organisation of events, and distribution of information.

However, the question must be asked: what is the real price of this freedom of communication? It cannot be denied that one of the most attractive things about Zuckerburg’s site is the lack of fee to be paid. However, this supposed benefit comes at the price of advertisements on every page we access through our browsers. Personally, I don’t even notice the adverts any more, they seem to merge into the background and overall setup of Facebook, but it seems that in the near future there is the potential for a huge increase in this encroachment on space of our computer screens.

In order to make a profit, Facebook faces the challenge of convincing investing companies and agencies that “a message from a friend” is the best form of advertising for their product or service. Facebook is undoubtedly an incredibly effective platform for the promotion of products- with an inexhaustible supply of eyes around the world constantly on the site. Because of this, it is expected to be an advertising machine. While companies such as Google take advertising to a new level- offering a technological solution to enable lots of people to place ads easily (by bidding for key words or the space next to these words- immediately placing said ad next to the key word all over the web), Facebook has employed what seems to be a rather standard mode of advertising. This has recently led the company to be on a knife edge of failure or success.

The problem with Facebook’s mode of advertising is that they constantly devalue investor’s products, trying to fit as many on a page as possible. This is a response to the ever increasing traffic that the website experiences. The lowering prices of ads against the increasing traffic may mask the problem of lack of profit in the short term, but actually ends up decreasing the value of the adverts, and therefore Facebook itself.

When we take into account mobile media, the problem becomes a lot clearer. Because of the small size of smartphone and tablet pages, only a small amount of adverts can be placed on any one page, which means that unless Facebook can come up with a solution, there is the very real potential the demise of this company may come about due to the increased use of this mode of media.


  1. Three main things to think about:

    1) When you don't pay for a service, you are the product. Facebook has amassed a wealth of information on you: what you like and don't like, who your friends are, and so on. This is the real value, as it allows targeted advertising. No need to bombard everybody with the same adverts, but only those who are likely to respond to it. Much better value for money for advertisers. And you are giving away this valuable data for free.

    2) Data ownership. If you want to quit Facebook, can you get all your post and photos that are stored there? Can FB do things with your data that you have allowed them to do in the small print of the terms that nobody ever reads? Can you ever delete that embarrassing picture of yourself you posted without thinking when drunk/angry/upset?

    3) Purpose. Are there other ways to do the same things FB has to offer? Using a variety of other services, such as blogs, twitter, or LInkedIn (which of course has similar issues as FB with regards to the first point!). What happens if FB closes down your account because you do something they don't like? Are there any alternatives, or will you be 'exiled' from society?

    It's worth keeping these issues in mind when discussing any service provided on the web, especially when it's a free one: someone has to pay for it in the end, and it might be you!

  2. Hopefully, in a year and a half's time we'll be able to say Facebook cost us our childhoods, but not our degrees!

    It's got to be said however that facebook has developed from it's humble social uses to a genuine tool both of academia (how many of our module groups, project teams and societies are now FB based?) and of business. I rely on this website to orchestrate a huge proportion of my social calendar and, thankfully, remind me of all those important anniversaries which are not quite important enough for me to actually remember...

  3. Although Facebook's method of advertising may be part of its problem regarding the company's decreasing financial value, there's a variety of other things contributing towards it. For example, targeted advertising or no, if you have an ad blocker installed and turned on in your browser, the company won't receive the ad revenue you would otherwise be contributing towards. Plenty of other 'free' services on the internet suffer because of ad blockers, especially webcomics and internet celebrities; something convenient for us comes at the cost of someone else's livelihood. I'm not certain that changing its advertising policy and placing more ads on each page would help Facebook very much, because people will continue to find ways around them. Of course, as Oliver said, Facebook's true wealth is not in its finances, but in the sheer amount of personal data it has access to. A more likely method of increasing Facebook's value again would be finding some way of using all this information to its advantage, though how I don't know due to all the legal issues surrounding data protection.

    In regard to being barred from using social networking sites: while it may be inconvenient for an indefinite length of time, there are other methods of communicating with people, both online and offline. While Facebook and its relatives may be the biggest, most popular methods of social networking, this is likely to eventually run its course. New sites and services will appear for us to use as technology advances and the internet changes - though I imagine issues with data ownership and advertising will be rife amongst these, too.


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