Leaving Facebook via Profile Hound
On more than one occasion, I’ve endeavored to cancel my Facebook account. On each occasion, I failed. I suspect that some of you have found yourselves in that situation. The reasons for wanting to leave Facebook are varied, but I’d imagine a great many people have attempted to sever their ties with Facebook with mediocre results. Time and again I find myself roped in.
Each time I’ve attempted to leave Facebook for good, I’ve failed to stick to my game plan. Facebook makes it easy to back-peddle…once you have definitively cancelled your account, they simply hide your content from view (“deactivate”) until you cave in and return. Upon reactivation, it’s as if you never left.
This makes me uneasy. I’m bothered that I can’t immediately manage (i.e. destroy) the content of my Facebook account—the associated trail of pictures, comments and relationships. The relic survives, even after I’ve pulled the plug. That’s just creepy and I view it as a violation of my privacy. (In their defense, Facebook purportedly has a 14 day deactivation policy…if there is no interaction with Facebook for two weeks after deactivation, permanent deletion will commence.) Fundamentally, Facebook is built upon our content. We should be able to pull it if we so choose.
What keeps us coming back to Facebook? I’d suggest that there are two vital pull factors that characterize our allegiance and dependence on Facebook: 1) the number of contacts we’ve established through it, and 2) the content (especially pictures) that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to manage or come across without it. I hypothesize that these two factors represent Facebook’s greatest value to us as consumers.
Facebook would not be the networking giant of the digital age without its vast membership. Every time I have traveled abroad, I’ve exchanged Facebook (rather than e-mail) information to maintain contact with new friends. The advantage is obvious: Facebook allows us to monitor each other’s travels and lives, rather than relying on other (more expensive) channels to keep in touch. This is why Facebook has a competitive advantage and why defection can prove to be so difficult. As a platform with a rather weak revenue model (in light of its astronomical valuation, what is that, exactly?), Facebook has a critical need to hold on to us. They have nothing without the membership numbers (and the information behind those numbers), even though they haven’t been able to extract and monetize much of the value “they” created. In reality, we create the value each time we use it. At the end of the day, the fact remains that Facebook content belongs to us…Facebook can’t sell that content—though they’d love to more than anything. Without a breakthrough revenue scheme at the ready, I’d suggest that the folks at Facebook consciously make it difficult for us to take our content from their platform. They are masters at enabling us to import content to Facebook, but equally adept at preventing us from exporting the content we derive value from.
Have you ever tried to download and export the e-mail addresses of all of your Facebook friends? Have you ever tried to download all of the pictures tagged of you from Facebook? If you have, you’ve run into the problem: you can’t. Sure, you can look up a person’s e-mail address or save a picture to your hard drive, but there is no easy way to extract that content en masse. Facebook places a premium on the ability to aggregate that information and prevent it from migrating elsewhere.
I’m not looking to attack Facebook out of ideological opposition, but because Facebook is a first generation business model that is vulnerable…it has failed to provide shareholder (important distinction from user) value and it’s ready to be pillaged. It’s a cash cow…but ironically the only entity that cannot profit from it is Facebook.
Personally, I find Facebook to be both an attraction and a distraction—I want to eliminate Facebook from my life, but I don’t want to lose those connections or the content that has (against my will) come to define me over the past six years. So, I’m designing a service that enables us to reclaim our content…and turn a profit in the process.
Profile Hound is a web service designed to piggyback on the Facebook platform and help users extract value from Facebook and bring it to their desktops. Whether users simply want to make their Facebook content available offline or if they want to walk away from Facebook for good, Profile Hound will mine users’ accounts to compile all of the contact information and media files associated with their Facebook identity (that would take days to accomplish manually). Perception is key. Guised as a media backup tool, this simple computer program will gather all of the relevant information the client requests and compile that content onto a compact disk or into a zip file. For a small nominal charge (TBD), Profile Hound will collect the names and e-mail addresses of your “Friends”, download all of the images (and video) posted by and of the user, and deliver that content either physically or digitally to the owner in their preferred format. The content belongs to us, the users. If we want to obtain that content and walk away, we should be able to.
If this is such a commercially viable idea, why hasn’t Facebook capitalized on it? Simple. If Facebook allowed us to compile information easily and drag it away at the click of a mouse, they’d be effectively cannibalizing their own business. If users could export their contacts’ email addresses and media, users would have little need to return and use the platform…they wouldn’t feel roped in. As a result, Facebook’s membership ranks would shrink, rather than grow. Their advertising revenue would fall because visitation would dry up. With lesser revenue and increasing rates of defection (or slowing rates of adoption), Facebook’s market valuation would be decimated. This is the single outcome Facebook could not be able to survive. And it’s the single reason why Facebook is ready to be taken. Would Facebook mount a legal attack against this product? You bet your ass they would! But once again, there’s that one simple reality that works in our favor: our content is our property.