You can’t live without it.
And you can’t live with it, either.
In the past week, if you have been trying to access the Facebook page for The 1861 Project and wonder why you keep winding up at your own homepage, I have a tale of woe for you. Bear with me here, it’s a bit of a shaggy dog story…
Two weeks ago I created a Facebook “Fan” page for The 1861 Project. Within the “page,” I added some features using a service called DamnTheRadio (DTR), which adds audio and video to a Facebook page, along with the option to lock some of the content behind the “Like” button.
One of the essential features of the “DamnTheRadio” installation is the ability to set DTR as the “default tab” for a first time visitor. When the “default tab” is set to DTR, a first time visitor to the page is greeted with the music that we want them to hear - not the familiar “wall” of links and comments that identify the typical Facebook page. This way, first time visitors to a page see the “music” tab, where they can listen to some of the music; If they want to hear more all they have to do is click “Like,” and all the rest of the content and features of the page are unlocked.
At first, everything went swimmingly. Visitors started to “Like” the page the minute we made it public. But then Facebook pulled the rug out from under us.
About 10 days ago I was informed that Facebook, in its infinite, benevolent — and, apparently, irreversible — wisdom, had decided that our “Fan” page was actually a “Community” page. There was no explanation for the involuntary re-categorization. Nor was there any recourse offered, other than a link that said “if you think this reassignment was made in error, click here…” That was not an link back to the original configuration, but a way to submit a request to get the original settings restored.
At first I did not think too much of the change. It looked like the page was performing precisely as it had before the involuntary change. But then I started to notice one mission-critical difference: I could no longer set the “default tab” for first time visitors to the page.
I did not fully grasp what was happening until the good folk at DamnTheRadio (just recently a subsidiary of the FanBridge e-mail service) — whose excellent customer service typically responds to user inquiries within just a few hours - explained to me that Facebook, again in their infinite, benevolent — and apparently arbitrary and capricious — wisdom, had eliminated the “set default tab” feature, but only for “Community” pages!
In other words, for reasons unforeseen and unknowable, Facebook had a) changed the category of my page and b) consequently disabled what I regarded as the single most important feature of the page.
By the time this realization fully dawned on me, our page had a total of 83 followers (“Like”rs?). When setting up a Facebook page, another protocol Facebook enforces will only allow changes to a page configuration if it has fewer than 100 followers. Once that number is reached, the configuration becomes etched in digital stone. So I felt compelled to make a command decision to “hide” the page, making it visible only to its administrators, lest 83 quickly become 100+ and even the chance of any recourse being eliminated altogether.
So if you have tried to visit this page over the past week and wondered why you keep winding up at your own Facebook home page instead, that’s why.
I had to lock the page down in order to buy time, fully realizing that the best I could do was sit here and wait and hope - that there was someway to get Facebook to un-fix that which was not broken to begin with. And that’s where the real fun begins….
The End of The “Level Playing Field” ?
Have you ever tried to actually contact anybody at Facebook to tell them you have a problem? Well, good-fucking-luck with THAT.
I was pretty much beside myself once I realized what was going on — not only because I had put a lot of time and effort into getting this page to work the way I wanted it to — but because I know full well that there is no user support whatsoever from Facebook. There is no e-mail address, no ticket system, nor any way of contacting anybody at Facebook if you have a problem with their service. I guess that’s just the way it goes when you are only one of a half-billion users. That’s a lotta people to have to offer technical support for a “free” service.
So I did the only thing I knew to do… I started posting rants on Twitter. And I called a couple of colleagues who are somewhat more savvy than I about the inner workings of Facebook.
One such colleague had already been designated a co-administrator of the now problematic page. And, as luck would have it, the first time she accessed the page as an admin, she was greeted by the same “we’ve changed you page…” notice that I had ignored a week earlier. That much seemed like a bit of good luck. But following the link in the notice, she was greeted by a form that asked myriad questions about why we thought the page should be switched back to what it originally was from what Facebook had made it. And even as she was filling out the forms, my despondence was unavoidable: “yeah, great,” she caught me whining, “we’ll send that off to Facebook and there’s no telling if or when we’ll ever hear back from them…”
Unfortunately, I was right about that. We submitted that request a week ago and, true to form, we have not heard back. Not a peep.
But all is not entirely lost. The next day one of my Twitter rants landed on wiling ears. Sometime late Thursday I received a direct message from one of my followers who wrote “I have a Facebook in. What are you trying to do?”
Well now, that was another encouraging turn of events. But the issue was more than I could explain in a 140 character reply, and we spent most of the next day missing each other by phone and it was not until sometime Saturday that I was able to convey the issue sufficiently that he could then send an e-mail to something called “Facebook VIP Support.”
That was nearly five days ago, and still, here we sit, waiting to see if the authorities at Facebook can be bothered to undo the damage they did to my page. But, apparently, Facebook is… faceless.
Somewhere in the midst of our e-mail and Twitter exchange, this friend shared the kernel of information that has turned on all the warning lights for me. After I expressed my continuing frustration with the experience - and my surprise to learn that there is such a thing as a “VIP Support” window at Facebook - my friend informed me that “VIP means >10k fans.”
In other words, if you have a Facebook page that has at least 10,000 fans, then you can get somebody at Facebook to pay attention when you run into an issue. My Twitter friend works for a major record label, and all that label’s artists probably have more than 10,000 fans. So HIS company gets “VIP Support.”
And so, as the digital blob called Facebook marches on in its quest to absorb the entire Internet, you can kiss your “level playing field” goodbye. If you have sufficient resources to muster 10,000 fans, Facebook is at your service. But if you are a ground-level, grass-roots start-up enterprise that is thinking you can use Facebook to find your audience… you are on your own.
The reality of “Social Media” is the reality of the macro economy: the rich just keep getting richer.
New Media, Same as the Old Media
The end of the level playing field is just the beginning of the digital disillusionment that the Global Domination of Facebook portends. Thanks to Zuckerberg and Co. - it suddenly dawns on me - the the whole idea of “new media” is now officially toast.
There has been rhetorical inside joke running among my digerati friends in recent weeks, the observation that “new media” has been around long enough now that it no longer qualifies as “new.” But that is not the only reason that there is no such thing as “new media.”
What I have described here is part and parcel of the Facebook user experience. You and I… we are the users of Facebook. But we are not Facebook’s customers. Facebook’s actual customers are the people and companies with “>10K fans” — i.e. the businesses that are most likely to further increase their visibility by buying those little ads that are precisely targeted across Facebook’s bazillion daily pages.
That’s why you can’t get any help if you run into a problem, even one that Facebook has created for you. We, the half-billion “friends” on Facebook, are not its customers. We are only its fodder. And fodder does not get user support.
Back in the dark ages of the mid-to-late 20th century - before the Internet, before cable TeeVee even, when I was in college and terrorizing the countryside with the first portable video cameras, I learned something fundamental about the business of broadcasting. The lesson goes like this:
As much as we may love (or love to hate) radio or television programming, the business of broadcasting is NOT to deliver that programming to the audience. The business of broadcasting is to deliver the audience…. to the advertiser.
And in that regard Facebook, for all of it’s vaunted “new media” pretense, for all of its “social networking” facade, is no different from the radio and television systems of the previous century. When it comes down to how they conduct their business, the “new media” are pretty much just like the “old” media.
Facebook’s customers — the people and businesses who pay its bills and apparently give it an eleven-figure (as in tens-of-billions) market capitalization — are not the multitudes who spend all day posting their whimsical ‘status updates’ and compromising photos of their shit-faced friends. Facebook’s customers are the advertisers — the people and companies who pay for the sponsored links that appear in the sidebar on the right hand side of every page you look at on Facebook. Those photos of your shit-faced friends are just a way to sell them more beer.
The way we use these “new media” may be different. It may be less ‘passive’ than broadcasting. And there may be an infinite array of things to read, watch, and listen to. But that is a distinction without a difference. The essential hierarchy, the critical model of “users delivered to advertisers” remains intact. There is nothing new under even the digital sun.
For all his vaunted genius, technical prowess, and supposed ‘vision’, not even Zuckerberg can come up with a genuinely new business model.
But even as Facebook’s quest to swallow the web reaches fruition, we might get some sense of how this ends: Facebook is not the first web service to follow this path. Remember MySpace? MySpace operated in precisely the same manner. It got users to post information about themselves under the pretext of ‘social networking,’ and then handed those users and their vital data over to advertisers. It was not until those users began to grasp the full extent of their exploitation - in the form of an inferior user experience that was easily superseded by a new kid on the block called Facebook - that MySpace began its inevitable decline.
One wonders how long it will be before Facebook’s users come to the same realization, and move along to the next shiny digital object on the horizon that offers the same promise of a “new model” that is, again, just like the old model.
* * * *
And now a full week has passed, and nothing has changed with the page that Facebook fucked up. A week is enough time to conclude that Facebook does not giving a flying flip about its rank and file users. We will go back to being quiet fodder now, and I have restored the Facebook page for The 1861 Project. Please join us there. Facebook issues not withstanding, the music is really quite outstanding.
Paul Schatzkin has been active in digital music since founding Songs.com in 1995. He now operates a music management and digital services company, CohesionArts.com.