In a frantic 48-hour stretch starting Saturday, Facebook leaked the news that it was testing a new app, faced the threat of a lawsuit by someone claiming the company had stolen the idea, and announced that it had shelved the project. Separately, the company also changed the listed email of all users to an @facebook.com address. In other words, it was just another two days in the post-IPO life of Facebook.
As the world’s biggest social network, Facebook was generating daily headlines before last month’s disappointing initial public offering. But the post-IPO headlines have taken on a different tone: They tease new products, new services and new partnerships. They seem more focused on the bottom line than the user experience. As we predicted the day Facebook filed its IPO, the company now caters, at least in part, to shareholders.
Facebook would never admit it, but the company seems to be doing just that. It is taking a machine-gun approach to public relations, announcing a steady stream of initiatives, apps and product hints, hoping that one (and preferably several) will hit. So far, none of the headlines has silenced long-standing investor concerns about the company’s ability to diversify revenue beyond targeted banner advertising and prove that it can monetize its mobile platform.
Not a Gmail Killer Then, Not a Gmail Killer Now
Facebook launched its personalized email addresses in 2010. At the time, we were told it would be a “Gmail killer.” That didn’t happen, in large part because – and there’s no delicate way to put this – Facebook’s messaging system is awful. It’s clunky and filters messages from strangers into a “shadow” inbox that is easy to miss. It can’t be searched the way Gmail can, nor can message be filtered, sorted or saved. If you never got around to setting a personalized vanity address for your Facebook profile, your Facebook email address is a random string of numbers @facebook.com.
Put another way, there is no compelling reason to use your @facebook.com address. Except for one: Now Facebook is forcing you to use it.
“Facebook silently inserted themselves into the path of formerly direct unencrypted communications from people who want to email me,” Gervase Markham, the blogger who first noticed the change over the weekend, said. “In other contexts, this is known as a Man In The Middle (MITM) attack. What on earth do they think they are playing at?”
You can, of course, go into your profile and change it back to your preferred email address. But for now, the default setting is to list your @facebook.com address. That means if someone uses Facebook as a white pages search to find you, the message they send you will go to your facebook.com email address.
Facebook wouldn’t say when the decision was made or how it was addressing criticism that it was changing users’ default email addresses without their consent. But a spokesman told the Chicago Tribune that the company had been switching user email addresses since April, when it made changes to its service terms.
“Ever since the launch of Timeline, people have had the ability to control what posts they want to show or hide on their own timelines, and today we’re extending that to other information they post, starting with the Facebook address,” spokesperson Andrew Noyes said in an email to the newspaper.
Shoving Users for the Sake Of Shareholders
The latest Facebook push is the most dramatic in the post-IPO string of announcements, but it fits a familiar theme. Realizing that user growth is reaching an inevitable slowdown, the only way for Facebook to grow advertising revenue over time is to get users to spend more time on the site. Forcing you to check email is one way to do that.
What Facebook needs to worry about now is alienating its users and thus effectively undermining its own strategy. If you start to feel like you’re being forced to use the service, you may stop using it altogther. And that’s not good for shareholders or users.