Hopefully people don’t read the article and come away with the idea that I think we should do nothing with the data collected on social media networks. Indeed, I don’t think it’s possible to do nothing at all with data generally, regardless the source.
That said, the first thing we need to do is start a conversation about how best to utilize the data. This needs to be a public debate, not one that just takes place in board rooms or among computer scientists and data analysts working in the industry. We also need to determine what the data actually tells us. This will involve social scientists including psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists, to name just a few. I’m certainly not taking the position the data doesn’t tell us anything worthwhile. I am, however, contending we haven’t generally asked the kind of questions necessary to figure out what it actually does tell us.
Finally, I actually believe Medium is on to something. I’m often as mystified as other writers/readers on this service when it comes to how their algorithm works and what goes through the minds of curators/editors when they choose stories to feature, etc. That said, they ask people to pay a small monthly fee to run the whole operation and they eschew advertising. Facebook, Twitter and other similar services should be charging for their service and we should be willing to pay for it if it’s something we truly value. Paying for the service would make the users the clients instead of the advertisers. That will necessarily change the ends the data serve and therefore the questions we ask about what the data can and should do. I don’t think fees either need to be or should be prohibitive. Doing the math quickly in my head a billion Facebook users paying a penny a post and posting on average 10 times a month would generate somewhere in the vicinity of $100 million in monthly revenue. Add a penny for the privilege of adding a tag to your post and let users select the tags they want to follow/search and that $100 million can quickly turn into $200 million or more every 30 days or so. I’m not in the business, but it seems to me a company should be able to run a pretty good social media network for $100-$200 million a month.
I don’t know who said it or where I read it, but I did read somewhere recently that when the product is free, you’re the product. I want people to be the clients, not the product. That means we need to be willing to pay a little for services we value. Whatever Medium’s faults may be, this service is an example that at least understands that principle, and that places it head and shoulders above services like Facebook and Twitter.