a few thoughts about what happened yesterday

As you likely know, Facebook – along with other apps owned by the company including Instagram and Whatsapp – were offline yesterday for a bit over six hours right smack dab in the middle of the day.

this is what people weren’t seeing for much of monday

Thankfully my day-to-day responsibilities no longer involve publishing to, engaging on or otherwise managing a page or other presence on Facebook. Still, with my experience doing so for many years I can’t help but have a few thoughts not only on what happened but also what it means and what kind of impact it should have.

So, in no particular order:

It certainly renewed the idea that building your home on rented land is not a great idea. That is to say, if your primary online marketing and promotional presence is on a platform that you don’t own you’re setting yourself up for problems. While a web host or other service can go down at anytime, if you at least own the site where the majority of your engagement and transactions happen you can make fixes, change to another host, reconfigure servers etc when problems crop up.

This doesn’t mean it’s an all-or-nothing game, it just means that Facebook and other managed networks should be offshoots of your online strategy, not the central hub.

It should make everyone question exactly what value they’re getting out of Facebook. Specifically, what’s the ROI of your marketing efforts there? While it’s been a few years since I actively managed a Facebook publishing program, that was a question I was asking even then, and had been asking for a couple years already.

Ever since the introduction of the News Feed in 2006 publishers of all kinds have been looking to find out how much of their audience is actually being reached, and that number has steadily gone down even as their total potential audience has gone up. Instead of reaching 50% of the people that follow a page, publishers gradually saw that go down to 20%, then 10%, then 5%. It got to the point that 2% organic reach was considered incredibly successful.

Really as soon as Facebook made it clear publishers could only reach a significant percentage of their audience through paid post promotion everyone should have run for the hills. But by then we were well into the sunk cost fallacy, with companies unwilling to abandon the site because they’d already put so much effort into it, even if the prospects for future value seemed dim.

Facebook is clearly a single point of failure for a significant portion not only of the U.S. economy but also the world’s information ecosystem. That’s a dangerous position for any company to be in, which is why so many trusts were busted in the early decades of the 20th century.

Just 40 years ago AT&T had to breakup the Bell Operating Companies because federal regulators understood one company controlling so much of the market was bad for consumers and the economy as a whole. The same should absolutely be done to Facebook, but it’s more likely that nothing will happen because too many Senators are still confused by Hotmail and others are too beholden to other interests to act.

Not only that but it’s clear now that Facebook’s continued insistence that Instagram and Whatsapp are separate companies is buffalo biscuits.

By far the most disturbing part of what happened were the stories of Facebook employees not able to enter the building or turn on lights because their IoT-connected badges and tools couldn’t function with the site down. It certainly reinforced my personal determination to never buy a single IoT device or appliance.

Even putting aside the fact these devices are incredibly easy to hack and have a tendency to leak personal data across any virtual beachfront they encounter, imagine not being able to get into your home until Facebook – or any other login manager – is back up.

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