I would guess that if Google suddenly charged $50 per year to use Google+, I would probably lose 98% of the friends I’ve made.
And I would have a hard time making new friends abroad. For example, as Cuba slowly opens up, I would like to make friends and have conversations with Cubans, too. But $50 is two months’ salary for the average Cuban. On subscription-based social networks, there’s an invisible sign on the door that says: “No Cubans Allowed.”
There may be billions of people in the world who can gain access to an Internet-connected computer, but can’t afford to pay for unnecessary services. There are still others who could afford to pay for social networking, but won’t because they see it as a needless expense. And finally, there’s a tiny minority of wealthy elites who wouldn’t hesitate to pay $50 a year for social network.
Unfortunately, these elites will be talking only amongst themselves on such services. Everybody else will be excluded.
The ideal scenario for a social network would be to have voluntary contributions, where some people can pay whatever they like for the service, and a majority could pay nothing. Those who pay get prizes and services of their choice as an incentive to contribute.
While wealthier users would really be paying for everything, anyone could join without paying.
Sounds great, right?
That’s exactly what ad-supported social sites do. That’s what Facebook, Google+ and Twitter do right now.
If you follow the money, the social network displays ads, which incentivizes people to buy things, which goes to the advertiser. Buying that camera you saw in an ad is helping to pay the bills to keep your social network running not just for you, but for everybody.
It’s actually a global redistribution of wealth. The people who buy things on social networks are paying for a service that everybody can use. Those who buy nothing are gaining access to a service paid for by those who do buy.
Ad-supported social networks are inclusive. They’re open to the public, and anyone can join in, make friends and engage in conversations on an equal footing with everyone else.
Subscriber-supported social networks, on the other hand, are exclusive. Subscriber-supported sites like App.net are indistinguishable in principle from country clubs. They’re meeting places where elites can socialize without being bothered by the middle and lower classes.
Dalton Caldwell’s heart is in the right place. He’s trying to create a social space where developers aren’t controlled or excluded.
But ultimately social networking is about having conversations with people. Tools are important, but people are more important.
Advertising, despite all its flaws, acts as a counter-weight to the ever-encroaching market society. Advertising enables the existence of one of the few remaining social spaces in our society where everybody is equal, and everybody is welcome.
Groucho Marx famously joked: "I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member."
Personally, I would not join any club that would have ONLY a person like me for a member.
And that’s why I love advertiser-supported social sites.