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Facebook as the Walmart of the Internet

I’ve been thinking about Facebook lately. The recent Instagram terms of service kerfluffle reinvigorated my thinking, and this week’s events have made it clear that Instagram is definitely operating as Facebook at this point.

I’m thinking that in many ways, Facebook has become the Walmart of the internet[1].


Walmart attempts to be the store with everything. Whether you need groceries, clothing, toys, or ammunition, your local Walmart has it. They won’t have as broad of a selection as a specialty store for any of these things, and the staff won’t be as knowledgeable, but they’ve got enough to get by.

Facebook attempts to be a self-contained version of the internet. They’ll let you send messages, chat in real-time, share photos, play games, buy things, and write lengthy notes/posts. None of these features offers the same breadth of options or flexibility as dedicated websites or apps that perform similar functions, and I wish you luck on getting any help if things go wrong, but they do have a basic set of tools to interact online.

Walmart has a reputation for moving into towns, building a big store, and offering good-enough goods at a lower price than local retailers, causing some of those local retailers to go out of business. Facebook has expanded into some new areas, offerering good-enough software that has made it difficult for some niche software players to compete.

Walmart restricts some material from being sold in its stores, with a history of only stocking “sanitized” media where offensive language or themes have been removed. Facebook has a history of restricting topics of discussion, at times drawing the ire of groups such as breastfeeding mothers when some photos have crossed Facebook’s line of acceptable content.

Walmart’s position in the retail world allows it to do as it pleases, with employees, consumers, and suppliers stuck with the results. When there’s a public relations flare-up about a particular move, Walmart will back down a bit, but not entirely, leaving customers in a worse position while still appearing to save face[2].

Facebook’s position in the social networking space allows it to do as it pleases, with users and advertisers trailing along as Facebook chooses the path. If there’s a big outcry about something, Facebook will back off slightly, leaving users with something worse than before but not quite as bad as originally feared. This week’s Instagram changes are a good example, where the most offensive language has been removed from the terms of service but users are still left in a position with more of their content and personal data being subject to uncontrollable third party use[3].

Small businesses close, suppliers lose control, and consumers lose choices as Walmart moves forward.

Users lose privacy of their information, Facebook becomes more intrusive across the web as developers depend on its API, and Facebook is able to force unpopular changes upon its users as it strives for increased revenue.

It’s Not All Negative

Walmart and Facebook aren’t entirely bad.

It seems that that Walmart has a “low prices regardless of what we have to do to get there” mantra, and low prices mean that lower-income families can often stretch a dollar farther by shopping at a Walmart store.

Facebook’s attempt to bring a wide range of internet services onto their virtual property means that less-tech-savvy users are able to participate in a broad set of online experiences without having to discover, set up, and learn a variety of distinct independent web services.

I know good people who work for Walmart and make interesting things such as Walmart’s new mobile in-store shopping app. I’ve met and talked with smart Facebook employees who do good things like contribute Facebook code back to open source projects.

There Are Alternatives

For most people, there are alternatives to shopping at Walmart. One can choose to patronize a local business or a different chain store that might engage in less aggressive practices. Low prices are often the only factor that might seemingly lock someone into Walmart.

Plenty of web services offer alternatives to Facebook. Whereas price locks a small number of folks to Walmart, the overwhelming percentage of internet users that are on Facebook is the lock-in factor for the big social network.

If you’re not among the demographic where Walmart’s prices or locations are the only option by which you can survive, there are choices. Many consumers actively refuse to patronize Walmart based on the business’ practices, even though those consumers might pay a few dollars more for their merchandise.

If your internet friends and associates know how to use computers beyond Facebook, there are choices. These choices often provide more privacy and control of your data. Independent blogging platforms, photo hosting services, game systems, and other such applications and utilities are available for your use, even though your ability to connect with others might require a bit more time or effort than if you’d chosen to use Facebook.

Much like retail customers can take a stand against Walmart’s business practices by shopping elsewhere, internet users can take a stand against Facebook’s business practices by choosing not to share their personal information, text, photos, and time on the website.

My Position

I’m fortunate in that I don’t feel dependent on Facebook’s services. I’ve maintained a personal profile there, and have a couple business pages setup for two arms of my photography ventures.

From a personal standpoint, I’m mostly connected with folks on Facebook that I already engage with in other places online: blog comments, Twitter, Google+, instant messages, or topical communities. There are a handful of folks who I follow on Facebook that to my knowledge don’t have any other meaningful internet presence. It’s these few connections that trouble me the most about my Facebook social graph… do I maintain these relationships with others purely at the whim of Mark Zuckerberg?

From a business angle, to my knowledge I’ve never booked a new client nor sold a print based on Facebook activity. I’ll admit that I haven’t expended a large amount of effort on Facebook marketing, but for the time invested I’ve seen far more benefit from other marketing activities. I do realize that ongoing Facebook presence holds some networking and marketing value even if I can’t directly trace a specific client or deal to Facebook.

I don’t agree with how Facebook conducts business, so I’m going to choose not to use their services. Tonight I’ll share this article over there and encourage folks to connect with me in other places. Over the next few days, I’ll delete my now-unused Instagram account (I’m continuing to share photography on Flickr and Google+). I’ll be reviewing my Facebook friends list to ensure that I’m following folks elsewhere. Once I’ve reviewed my connections, I’ll shut down my Facebook account.

There might be a vital reason why someone chooses to shop at Walmart or actively use Facebook and Instagram. Given that I don’t have any of those reasons, I’ll be patronizing outfits whom I can feel better about.

  1. I’m not the first to use this phrase. John Sanchez did so in August 2010 and Tiffany Prince used it in August 2012. I think my take is a little different.  ↩

  2. a recent example would be adding a layaway fee, then reducing said fee after an outcry  ↩

  3. here’s a quick summary, one of many articles in the news  ↩

Email Marketing for Photographers: an Interview with DJ Waldow

DJ Waldow is an email marketing expert who just wrote a book (co-authored by Jason Falls) called The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing. The book was just released; I’m partway through reading it and I’m finding lots of practical information. Email marketing doesn’t get quite as much buzz as some of the newer, social, “sexier” online marketing venues but the reality is that everyone has email and it can be a very effective method for communication with clients and peers. There are a lot of “best practices” out there, but one of the unique angles of DJ and Jason’s book is that they specifically talk about how breaking some of those rules can lead to good things.

A few weeks back I had a chance to interview DJ about email marketing; in addition to some general advice I asked some questions specific to photographers. Here’s the interview (about 19 minutes):

Expedia Travel Photo Contest #ExpediaFindYours – Massive Rights Grab

Earlier today I saw a friend tweet a nice photo along with the #ExpediaFindYours hashtag. I replied to ask what that was about and he pointed me to a travel photography contest being run by Expedia.

Before you get all excited about entering, note section 7 of the contest rules:

#ExpediaFindYours - Rights Grab

By participating, you: (a) irrevocably grant Sponsor, its agents, licensees, and assigns the unconditional and perpetual (non-exclusive) right and permission to copyright, reproduce, encode, store, copy, transmit, publish, post, broadcast, display, publicly perform, adapt, modify, create derivative works of, exhibit, and otherwise use your photo as-is or as-edited (with or without using your name) in any media throughout the world for any purpose, without limitation, and without additional review, compensation, or approval from you or any other party; (b) forever waive any rights of copyrights, trademark rights, privacy rights, and any other legal or moral rights that may preclude Sponsor’s use of your photo, or require any further permission for Sponsor to use the photo; and (c) agree not to instigate, support, maintain, or authorize any action, claim, or lawsuit against Sponsor on the grounds that any use of the photo, or any derivative works, infringes any of your rights as creator of the photo, including, without limitation, copyrights, trademark rights, and moral rights.

Simply by entering the contest, regardless of whether or not you win any prizes, you’re giving Expedia and the other sponsors a full license to use your photos for any purpose, anywhere, forever, and you’ll receive zero compensation.

No thanks.

What the Heck is a Certified Professional Photographer?

I’m a member of the PPA and one of the programs they push is the Certified Professional Photographer program. Skeptical of its value as a business and marketing tool, I decided yesterday to pose the question to my followers on Twitter and Google+.

First, I Storified the results from Twitter:

Do You Know What a "Certified Professional Photographer" is?

Storified by Aaron Hockley · Mon, Jul 09 2012 14:54:02

@ahockley someone who paid some random company some $$ to say he was certifiedSean Wiese
@ahockley nope.Kailey Lampert ⚙
@ahockley That’s somebody that sets their camera to the "M" setting, right?Eric Berto
@ahockley This non-photographer has never heard of a "Certified Professional Photographer." I’ve never hired a photographer, though.Amy Farrell ☕
@ahockley Nope. It’s the kind of statement that, as a web dev, makes me raise my eyebrow, though.Dana O’Rourke
@ahockley Sounds like meaningless marketing speak.Jacob Helwig
@ahockley nope. and neither do our moms.Mortar
@ahockley Sounds like someone who took a two-hour course from Ritz and got a framed 8.5×11.Clifton
@ahockley a liar?J-P Voilleque
@ahockley someone who can take a test but has no real experience? #cynicalHolly
@ahockley somebody who passed an exam that granted that credential — whether necessary or worthwhile would have to do research on ;-)Brenda Clark
@ahockley no :(Grant Landram

And here’s a screenshot from Google+:

Google+ responses about a Certified Professional Photographer

Seems to me that (at least amongst my communities), nobody knows what a Certified Professional Photographer is… and even worse, many of those that don’t know are skeptical or have negative sentiment.

I realize that any sort of certification needs some ramp-up time, but this has been around for a while, and if potential clients don’t have any idea what it means it seems that it would be a stretch as a professional benefit.

Interview on This Week in Photo: Social Media for Photographers

Over the weekend, Episode 261 of This Week in Photo was released, featuring an interview with none other than yours truly. While in San Jose recently, I stat down with TWiP host Frederick Van Johnson and we chatted about social media for photographers before my presentation to the San Jose SmugMug group.

View or download the podcast here.

Happy First Birthday, Google+

Google+ LogoOne year ago today, Google+ launched. The immediate (and overused) statement jumped out as everyone wondered if this would be a “Facebook killer.” Unsurprisingly, Facebook is as strong as ever. Google+ adoption has been a bit slower than many anticipated, but I’m finding it to be a great place to share and converse with photographers and other media professionals.

Choose Your Battles… er, Networks

Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Pinterest. Instagram. Google+. Each social network has pros, cons, and an audience. Unless you spend all day doing nothing other than social media, you’re not going to be a strong power user in all of these places. Chris Brogan calls them outposts. Rosh Sillars calls them outer planets. Either way, they’re a supporting role in your online presence. Experiment with all, but focus on the ones that provide the most value.

I’m not generally finding and booking clients via Google+. That said, Google+ a network (one of several) where I can occasionally “check in” with existing clients and prospects. Perhaps I +1 their post… perhaps I comment. I’m reminding them that I’m there.

The big benefit I’ve found in Google+ is that of social interaction with photographers. Most of the social photography discussions I used to have on Flickr are now happening on Google+. I follow a lot of photographers and I love browsing through my photographers circle to check out their work. I connect (and interact) with photographers of various backgrounds… everyone from “everyday folk” who have a good eye as well as the bigger names such as +Thomas Hawk or +Nicole Young.

If you want to dive into Google+ and connect with a bunch of photographers that are actively sharing and participating, Thomas Hawk’s list of his recommended photographers is a good place to start.

Hung Out

The other big feature that I’m digging is the Google+ Hangout feature. Free video chat for up to 10 people, with the optional ability to broadcast it live and archive it on YouTube (Google calls this feature “Hangouts on Air”). Whether we’re talking about an informal chat between friends, a collaborative photo editing/review session, or a high-profile broadcast, hangouts are great.

What’s Next?

I have no idea what’s in store for Google+ in the future… I suspect we’ll continue to see tight integration with other Google services1 and enhancements of existing features. Frankly I’m surprised that we’re one year in and have yet to see an open API that third parties can use to integrate with the service. The upside is that we’re relatively spam-free over on Google+, the downside is that I can’t integrate Google+ easily with other services and there aren’t any third-party Google+ clients.

Here’s to another year of Google+ improvements and adoption.

Feel free to circle me on Google+.

  1. One of my favorite integrations is that when one receives a Google+ notification via Gmail, you can comment, +1, and interact with the item (and the people who’ve previously interacted) directly from the Gmail message window.