The days of Facebook getting something for nothing from its 1.6 billion users may be coming to an end.
As I noted last week, the social network is facing a serious crisis: Its users are sharing much less personal content--pet photos, "baby's first steps" videos, etc.--than they were only a year earlier. Personal sharing is down 21 percent, according to The Information, pulling total sharing down 5.5 percent. Facebook being at heart a place where people share stuff with other people, it's a scary development.
Now comes word of a possible solution. Quietly, Facebook has been sounding out some users about the possibility of paying them in some way for the content they create. The Verge got hold of a user survey the company has been conducting, which asks whether the survey taker would be interested in "options for promoting your cause or earning money using your personal presence on Facebook." The options listed include a "tip jar," a cut of the revenue generated by ads served on your posts and a "sponsor marketplace" where you could find a brand looking for people like you to spread its message.
Asked about The Verge's report, a Facebook spokesperson responded with a statement: "It's still very early, but we're committed to creating sustainable, long-term monetization models for our partners and we're listening to feedback."
The word "partners" suggests Facebook is thinking about these as options for brands, publishers, and celebrities; The Verge speculates they might be available only to verified users, who typically have larger followings and have uploaded proof of identity to Facebook. The company already does some revenue sharing on videos, although it's been painfully slow in rolling that out. Mark Zuckerberg also promised there will be revenue sharing on the newish "Live Video" streaming product it's been promoting as an alternative to Twitter's Periscope.
On YouTube, anyone who posts a video that goes viral has been able to make money off of it since 2009. For Facebook to offer the same option, it first has to make sure the users who are posting those viral videos aren't ripping them off from somewhere else, which it's working on.
The factors behind the decrease in sharing on Facebook are still unclear. Privacy concern is probably one of them; the increasingly random and impersonal nature of the content there is another. Some users just have "Facebook fatigue" after years of addiction.
Depending on what your personal reasons are for sharing less often, the ability to make a few pennies or a few bucks if a video of your dachshund freaking out goes viral may not be much of an inducement to come back into the fold. It could result in Facebook becoming an even more annoying place than it is already as people elect to post what they think will resonate with the masses instead of what's meaningful to them. But if Facebook is going to continue to waste so much of our collective time, it's nice to think at least somebody other than Facebook is getting something out of it.