Facebook's Worth (to You)

Posted by JMcVerry on March 17, 2010 

How fun is this whole crazy social media thing? Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Stumble, Digg, Blogger, LinkedIn, Blip, Newsvine. There are hundreds of these things, and they all do something a little different than the next one.

Most folks haven't even heard of the majority of these things. Facebook and Twitter—mostly Facebook—are still holding steady as the leaders and the face of this "Social Media Revolution." Recently, Facebook beat Google as the most popular web site on the net. That's pretty amazing considering how ubiquitous Google is and all the services it provides.

There is something a lot of these sites and services have in common: most of them are free. For years Facebook has teetered on the possibility of charging for access to its site. This is often followed by a fairly fervent backlash from its users. Groups are formed call "I Won't Pay for Facebook" or "If Facebook Charges, We're Gone." Blogs go on about the horror of a non-free Facebook. It's kind of humorous. 

Other than being free right now, what does Facebook do that makes people think it should be free? Do they think unlimited space for hundreds of videos, thousands of photos, and billions of asinine comments comes with no cost? Sure, there's advertising, but compared to most sites, Facebook keeps the ads at a pretty comfortable minimum—and I am very grateful for that.

So, does Facebook risk the chance of losing millions of users by charging a fee? Probably. Would it be where it is today if they charged from the beginning? Probably not. What if it charged $1 per username and fan page? That would exceed $400 million (based on current users). Would you pay a dollar?

I would. That's one dollar for a site that will hold all of my photos and home videos. It puts me in contact with long lost friends and family. I can share things of interest and chat with folks who share those interests. It connects me to hundreds of addicting Facebook games. It basically does what the entire Internet did pre-Facebook. So, what about $2? $5? $10? $50? Based on how I use Facebook, $30 might be my limit. I am not a hardened addict or anything. I can quite at any time. I swear. Seriously.

Anyway, it's nice that Facebook is free. And the company would be silly to think it could keep its 400 million users even if it did charge $1, but the outrage and Internet fury is silly. People take is personally. They get fired up with a feeling of empty entitlement that there is no reason for this company to want money for providing a useful service—the most popular service on the world wide web.

It harkens back to a comment I read on a CDT article about raising football ticket prices. Students and alumni were furious, and the commenter said, "Raise tuition and no bats an eye. Raise ticket prices and there's a riot" (Something along those lines). Similarly, these kids turn a blind eye to a lot of the world's problems, but take away their Facebook and they're at you're throat. 

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