Over the past year, an awful lot of small businesses and hyperlocal media players have bet the farm on Facebook, ditching traditional standalone websites and going all-in on a Facebook presence. The reasoning is simple and seductive: Facebook is where my customers and readers are. Building a Facebook presence is cheap and easy. Why spend money on another vehicle for my content when Facebook is just fine.
This is what the folks at Rockville Central decided when they went Facebook-only for hyperlocal coverage and ditched their own Web site.
I wonder whether they are reconsidering that decision now that Google+ is on the rise. Growing from zero to 3% of all Facebook users in two short weeks is an eye-popping accomplishment for Google’s new social networking tool. Yes, we’re talking about the alpha adopters. But clearly Google intends + to be a mass-market phenomenon. Which, logically, should extend to some sort of commercial realm with storefronts, vanity pages and the like.
Such storefronts and for-profit offerings are likely a ways off (meaning perhaps in 2011), but it may create a problem for those folks who decided to rely entirely on Facebook. The entire point of ditching independent websites was to simplify and go where the crowds are. But what if the crowd moves? How can you migrate your business’ “Friend List” over to Google+? The short answer is, you can’t. How can you migrate your content over to +? You can’t without painstakingly recreating posts, reload images, etc. Facebook’s lack of data portability and its insistence on using Flash as its primary interface make exporting or scraping content very difficult indeed.
For individuals, this transition is hardly something new. The move from MySpace to Facebook was not an insurmountable huge problem, even though everyone said it would be difficult to export all those photos. But it could weigh more heavily on businesses–particularly local businesses. Many now rely so heavily on Facebook that disruptions could cause significant revenue declines–on the order of 5% or 10%, which for can be the difference between profit and loss. For a hyperlocal news site, moving the news archive – a hugely valuable thing for a media company – is absolutely paramount and will be royal pain.
At the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco last year, online impresario and provocateur John Battelle built his entire editorial slate around “PointsofControl” on the Internet. This type of control over content generated by users is precisely what he was talking about and will likely continue to be an issue as the web giants joust over users, their data, their businesses, and their hearts and minds.