Should libraries start their own, more trustworthy Facebook?

Trustworthy Facebook graphicPublic discontent with Facebook‘s arrogant privacy policies, and its ever-intrusive commercialism in general, keeps growing.

Could it be time for libraries—perhaps allied with academic institutions, newspapers and other local media—to start their own more trustworthy Facebook? A project for the Digital Public Library of America?

The existing Facebook would not go away; but at least people would have an alternative, especially for permanent archiving of family photos and other content that Facebook is trying to monetize now, but won’t necessarily keep around forever. What happens after you die? How permanent will Facebook memorial pages really be? With or without competition from libraries, Facebook might not exist a decade from now. It is, after all, a corporation dependent on sustainable mastery of evolving technology. And the sharp decline in the stock, even if it’s fully reversed, shows the company might not be as sound financially as Wall Street originally believed. Within the past year or so, I myself tried Facebook to advertise a book. A loser in terms of cost-effectiveness. GM felt the same way even after advertising more expensive products. Who says Facebook is definitely forever?

By contrast, budget pressures notwithstanding, public libraries have already established a track record as enduring institutions. If nothing else, library archives and genealogy records would benefit from the capture of spontaneous posts when users consented. What’s more, instead of generating ads starring victims, Likes could create pointers to library content that people truly appreciated and wanted their photos to be used with. I love the fact that librarians tend to be privacy hawks. Exactly what social media services need!

Let me emphasize that I am not suggesting that libraries should deliberately seek to put Facebook out of business. Rather I believe that Americans—and others, throughout the world—need less obnoxious, noncommercial alternatives. Here’s to different business models!

Note: I’m a small shareholder in Google, and everything I’ve said about Facebook would apply to Google as well—particularly given its new emphasis on social media.

More on the newspaper angle: With strict privacy protections in place—more than Facebook has!—newspapers could pick up items that people wanted to publicize. Also newspapers could promote library offerings. Imagine the linking synergies possible. I’ve already made a case for libraries as incubators of informed civic debate. Meanwhile you can go here for more thoughts on the benefits of library-newspaper alliances.

Posted in: Features, Libraries & Librarians, Privacy