What Made Beacon A Bust?

from the too-big-to-make-it-work dept

There's no question that Facebook's Beacon initiative has taken a beating over the past few weeks. The feature automatically collected and published users' activities at partner sites, and almost immediately attracted criticism. MoveOn launched a campaign in opposition to Beacon. Horror stories of accidentally disclosed purchases — like engagement ring purchases and Christmas presents — began to circulate. The early word was decidedly negative, prompting some partners to begin to jump ship. Facebook has weathered similar storms before: its minifeed feature was met with a hostile reception, but is now emulated by virtually every new social network. But this time they caved: on Wednesday founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote a rather contrite blog post:
We've made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we've made even more with how we've handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.

...

Last week we changed Beacon to be an opt-in system, and today we're releasing a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely.

It remains to be seen whether users will opt out en masse — there are indications that many may still not be aware of Beacon. But the negative press seems likely to scare away potential partners. So while it would be premature to declare Beacon a failure, it seems very unlikely that it will ever achieve its intended net-spanning potential.

I think there are three reasons why this happened. First, Beacon's simply not a feature that people — as opposed to companies — were clamoring for. Facebook noticed its users expressing opinions about products and saw a great opportunity to make money. But they couldn't resist removing the messily inefficient human portion of the opinion-expression process. Unfortunately, users didn't get much value from having that process automated.

Second, and perhaps most obviously, Facebook bungled the deployment of the feature. As Zuckerberg admits in the above-linked post, the company didn't think hard enough about how users would respond, and was too slow to react to how they did.

But the third factor may be the most problematic for Facebook: they're just too big. I don't mean to call MoveOn's anti-Beacon campaign dishonest, but it's not exactly in keeping with the organization's style. It's hard to imagine they'd have undertaken the effort if there wasn't plenty of free press attention to be had by attacking Facebook. The social network has achieved a level of popular attention that makes them an attractive target (and, if you subscribe to the nightclub theory of social networking, one that could presage a no-one-goes-there-because-it's-too-crowded problem).

Of course it would be silly to spend too much time doomsaying — the site's pageviews continue to grow at a healthy clip. But in the wake of the partial collapse of Beacon, it's hard to imagine Facebook launching another initiative as ambitious — and it's even harder to imagine them launching one successfully.

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Filed Under: advertising, beacon
Companies: facebook


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  1. identicon
    Erik, 7 Dec 2007 @ 10:23am

    Facebook doesn't care about user privacy, they care about monetizing their user base to cash in (regardless of what PC-speaking Zuckerberg has to say to the contrary). There are established ways to add advertising revenue to a site, Facebook should look to those before ever considering something as stupid and invasive as Beacon again. But it doesn't matter to me as I'd never use Facebook anyway, read their Terms of Use sometime. The rights you sign over by using the site are outrageous.

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