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Facebook Wants Your Two Cents

Facebook Wants Your Two Cents

After yet another user revolt over a change in policy, Facebook has opted to give users a more formal way to voice their opinions on changes to the site before they're implemented. In the past, Facebookers have often voiced their discontent by creating ad hoc, ex post facto user groups. They'll likely welcome the transparency, but if Facebook ignores their ideas, it may leave them even more disgruntled.

By Walaika Haskins
02/27/09 11:55 AM PT

A little more than a week after Facebook responded to a controversy surrounding its updated terms of service (ToS) agreement by capitulating and reverting to the previous version, the company announced new procedures Thursday that will open governance of the service and its policy processes to input from users.

Facebook's new approach to site governance will allow its users to help determine policies related to privacy, ownership and sharing through procedures that invite them to review, comment on and vote on them prior to their implementation.

The social networking site has released the first proposals for its members to consider under the new procedure. They include the Facebook Principles, a set of values that will guide the development of the service, as well as a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities that make the company's and its users' commitments clear as they relate to the service.

Users, said Facebook, will have an opportunity to voice their opinions about the new documents. The company is also planning an update to its Privacy Policy that will receive the same treatment.

"The past week reminded us that users feel a real sense of ownership over Facebook itself, not just the information they share," said Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook.

"Companies like ours need to develop new models of governance," he added.

Embracing the Public

Under Facebook's new procedures, the company said it will begin holding virtual Town Halls following the announcement of the new Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities for 30 days, with a comment period scheduled to end at 12:01 a.m. PDT on March 29.

During that period, users will be able to comment on the proposed policy. They can do so by joining one of two groups: Principles and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

Following the completion of the comment period, Facebook said it will republish the two documents and include any changes. If approved, then all future policy changes would be subject to notice and comment periods of varying lengths.

Holding Council

The company also announced its intention to establish a user council to participate more closely in the development and discussion of policies and practices. To begin, the company indicated that it would invite the authors of the most insightful and constructive comments on the draft documents to serve as founding members of the group.

Facebook's new policy is a growing trend among social network, according to Jeremiah Owyang, a Forrester Research analyst.

"This is exactly what they needed to do," he told TechNewsWorld.

"Facebook is really taking [the] lead in the trend for companies to be more open and transparent with customers and give them say in the business operation. Facebook is smart to realize this move only increases the investment of the users in its social platform. However, the move is also not without huge risks," Caroline Dangson, an IDC analyst, told TechNewsWorld.

"Facebook is empowering consumers and giving them voice in matters they never had before. Facebook now has to prove that its users can shape its terms of service in a way that also protect them, not just Facebook. If Facebook and users cannot come to an agreement to the terms, the move to democratize this process will backfire. Facebook is a free service and risks mass exodus of users if it does not put action behind its word," she said.


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