Failed Facebook Voter Turnout Bodes Ill For Users

Facebook's offering its proposed terms of service to a public vote was nothing more than a PR stunt. And very few of the service's 200 million users wanted anything to do with it.

As voting closed on Thursday, news reports said slightly more than 640,000 ballots had been cast. That was far short of the approximately 60 million votes necessary to make the vote binding under Facebook's rules for the balloting.

It is doubtful whether in the whole history of personal computing that 60 million people have ever read any company's terms of service. Sure, we have all clicked many "yes" boxes indicating our acceptance of a TOS, but that does not mean we read any of them.

By setting an impossibly high threshold, Facebook practically guaranteed failure of the voting. So why go through the process at all?

Does Facebook think the failure of a process that was clearly set up to fail gives it carte blanche to now do whatever it likes? Is it back to the drawing board or what? Facebook says it will make an announcement on Friday.

What Facebook should have done is engage consumer advocates to draft what might become a model TOS for all social networks. That could have accomplished the creation of an acceptable TOS without the spectacle of this bogus referendum.

As stated previously, the challenge for Facebook is creating a TOS that does not restrict the company from turning its 200 million members into profit source that investors will find acceptable.

So far, whenever the company has tried something that appeared aimed at monetizing its members, the membership has revolted. It is not clear there is any immediate route to large profits that Facebook members would accept.

That bodes ill for other social networks trying to avoid becoming the highly commercialized service that MySpace has become, alienating current and would-be members.

Facebook's arrogant reputation, which the balloting initially softened, has only been enhanced by the charade that the vote became.

Facebook can--and probably will--say it gave users a chance to shape the TOS and they didn't take it. However, customers should not have to read a complex legal document and vote to make a company do the right thing.

In the end, customers have a much more effective way of voting--with their feet. Will Facebook lose members because of the failed balloting? Not directly, but the company surely did not make many friends.

Let's see what happens next in the continuing drama of the company that can't shoot straight.

David Coursey is waiting for the company that disrupts Facebook. Tell him about it using the comment form at www.coursey.com/contact.

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