30 09 2011

I love urban legends.

I was a loyal reader of urban legend-buster columnist Jan Harold Brunvand for years, and bought all of his books before he retired from the professorate. What is it about our human condition that causes us to swallow whoppers hook, line and sinker? Is it just a flaw in our hard wiring that we add credence to anything told by another human being? Are we just naturally fearful? Suspicious? Implicitly preachy?

>Or gullible?

Like the AIDS-era legends about cryptic messages written on motel mirrors following a tryst with an infected partner. Or P&G’s supposed pact with the devil. Or email chain letters stating that Microsoft (or whatever company you wish to insert) will award a huge amount of money to the one millionth idiot to pass it along? Yeah, as if emails have counters.

Yes, this is the stuff of which Snopes.com is all about. Brunvand bequeathed his expertise to a handy website emporium of truth and mythbusting. I just wish more people would use it.

Which is why I continue to be amazed (frustrated, bemused, whatever) over how many people have bought into the legend that Facebook is going to start charging users. Yes, just this last Sunday I started noticing URGENT FACEBOOK SPOSTS FROM WELL-MEANING FRIENDS WHO DO NOT KNOW HOW TO TURN OFF THE CAPS LOCK. And this urgent message was that, if we did not follow instructions and pay up, come Monday morning we would be locked out of our FB account.

Yes, we ought always heed messages typed in all caps. About as long as it took you t read that last sentence.

Maybe it’s because Facebook has become such a dominant thread in the fabric of our 21C lives that we actually fear not having it available freely. But let’s face it: Facebook could never get away with charging. If you think there was a revolt at the last round of changes, you ain’t seen nothing yet, buddy.

If Facebook were to charge users, then Google should make us pay a couple of bucks every time we search for something. Why should Google miss this opportunity as well? Just think about all the added revenue.

But would you not quickly run…yea, jump, to Bing if Google erected a toll gate? Of course you would.

You see, Facebook and Google are not in the social or search businesses. They are in the advertising business. Facebook is on pace to rake in over $4 billion in ad revenues this year. They are comfortably monetized, thank you very much. And Google reported revenues of $9 billion for the second quarter of 2011 alone.

We may not like those pesky ads down the right pane of our social and search pages, but those folks are the ones paying the bills…and making it possible for us to play freely.

Now here’s an interesting question: Could Facebook and Google ever employ a freemium pricing model? Sure. The free model would contain adds, while a premium version would carry a price tag. That’s exactly how Hulu, Spotify and a slew of other content providers structure their services. If you don’t mind the ads, then you can hang out. But once you do start minding, then you better be prepared to pay.

As long as the ads on Facebook and Google don’t become too annoying, I suspect most of us will be perfectly fine with the current model. And both companies would be utterly stupid to ever think about charging for basic access. There’s just too much money to be made selling ads. Furthermore, if Facebook adopted a blanket pay-up-or-get-lost model, how many of Facebook’s 800 million users do you think would stick around?

Yeah, not many. Because then Google+ may actually start to sound like a good option. Maybe even Microsoft might be awakened from its slumber by that time and try its hand at something that people actually want.

Until that day, though, Facebook will continue to stay free. Just like its home page says in BIG BOLD LETTERS. While you can’t believe everything you hear, you can hang your hat safely on this peg. Now please forward this to everyone you know, because the one millionth person to do so will receive a new Amazon Kindle Fire.




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