Charging for Trust? The Perils of Information Investment on an Unstable (Free) Platform

by Emily W. Sussman

Is “too free to be trustworthy” today’s web-wise version of the old adage “too good to be true”?

MediaShift’s Mark Glaser had a great cautionary post last week about the dangers of professional and/or personal overreliance on any one sharing-is-caring 2.0 platform, such as Facebook or Twitter. [I’ll refer to these types of sites here as ‘SN/UGC’ for Social Networking/User-Generated Content.]

In today’s unpredictable climate of spend-venture-capital-cash-now, find-revenue-later SN/UGCs, Glaser advises, it’s folly to put all your information eggs in one basket. Better to spread your (virtual) self across a number of platforms, so if “your” SN/UGC tanks or becomes a capricious master, you won’t feel like your (real) self is lost at sea, too.

The piece provides a good “I got burned” anecdote from a Facebook user who found herself socially stranded after her account was abruptly revoked by the site’s powers-that-be. And though she doesn’t bring it up, I presume other “deliquent” users might have an even bigger reason to worry: what a wounded Facebook admin plans to do with their information, post-banishment.

For a look at more proactive web users, Glaser interviews professional bloggers and developers who say they stay vigilant not to rely on SN/UGCs to host or promote their unique content.

“I believe in building your own community and keeping control of the content you work hard to create,” says video blogger Cali Lewis, explaining why she’s reluctant to stake her business on Facebook, despite its powerful social-viral capabilities

“You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” adds tech blogger Chris Pirillo. “If [a given social networking site] changes one component or policy, you could be out of business… Never invest too much time and attention into one platform or another.” 

What could fix this (apparently) broken trust

Money might be a start. Lewis says she would be willing to pay a user fee for a SN/UGG like Twitter— presumably because along with it would come the assurance that her content and information would stay secure. 

Makes sense. In real life, we pay for services because, well, they’re worth paying for. A transaction that involves money is the real-world assurance of accountability. 

Further listening/reading:

On Trust
John Sutter and Jason Carroll: “Fears of Impostors Increase on Facebook,”, pub. 2.6.09.
KBIA News: “Under the Microscope: The Fall of” 2.5.09

On SN/UGC stability:
Simon Hooper: Facebook Turns Five… But Can It Survive?, pub. 2.4.09.
David Cohn: What Is and Isn’t Important to Learn: Lessons from Friendster,” from, pub. 2.3.09


7 responses to “Charging for Trust? The Perils of Information Investment on an Unstable (Free) Platform

  1. Are there any specific anecdotes out there of people who did get kicked off? And for what?

  2. Similarly, I occasionally wonder how safe my Yahoo! account is. It’s a record of my life for the past 10 years and I would hate to lose it. I could pay for an upgrade but I opt instead to simply trust Yahoo! not to take it away from me.

  3. changingnewsroom

    Great area for research and experimentation. I for one would be more than willing to pay for both trusted content and also for really good social networking services like Facebook or Twitter. Maybe the latter after a fairly lengthy free trial period so that I could try it out first.

    It’s tough to say though if people not as nerdy as I am would think this way. Dunno.

  4. I don’t buy the “free equals insecurity” connection.

    It is important to be in control of your content by self-hosting, etc. and to utilize these services to spread your work.

    A paid service could just as easily go under or change its user-agreement.

  5. Great point, Ryan. The only thing that’s stopping me are the gaps in my computer-literacy training! Looks like I’ll have to go out of the curriculum on that one. 🙂

  6. I just realized how cheap I sound. I won’t even pay for a connection.

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