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Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web

By - January 24, 2012

(image) This article – Early Facebook App Causes Is Being Reborn As A Polished Web Site For Good – caught my eye as I was nodding off last night (thanks so much for moving the web into my bedroom, Flipboard. No really.)

Now, it didn’t catch my eye because of its subject – Causes – but because of what its subject was doing: refocusing its business back out on the Independent Web, from its original home in the zoological garden that is the Facebook platform.

This is indicative of what I believe will become a trend over the next year or so, barring moves by Facebook to stem the tide (I’ve heard tell of far more “weblike” canvas pages coming, for instance). Companies that have planted their presence too deeply into the soils of Facebook are going to realize they need to control their own destiny, and move their focus and their core presence back into the independent waters of the open Internet (think Zynga “project Z”, for instance). Listen to Causes VP Chris Chan on the decision to move back to Causes.org:

As the years have progressed the web has gotten a lot more social, and it makes more sense to have our own brand and site. We can still be ‘on’ Facebook in the sense that we plug into News Feed and fan pages, but having our own brand gives us full, top to bottom control over the product experience, something that we think is critical for building the best tool possible for organizers to create campaigns for social change.

That “full, top to bottom control” means a lot more than just the chrome finishes on your website. It means controlling all the data created by interactions on that site, including if and how you share that data with your consumers and your partners (including Facebook, of course).

In seminars, writings, conferences, and speaking gigs around the world over the past couple of years, I’ve started using a phrase when asked my opinion of what a brand’s social strategy might be, in particular when it comes to Facebook. The context is nuanced (I’m a fan of integrating Facebook into your brand efforts), but the point is simple: If you are a brand, publisher, or independent voice, don’t put your taproot into the soils of Facebook. Plant it in the independent web. (A bit more on this can be found here).

Now, that doesn’t mean “don’t use Facebook,” not at all. I think Facebook is an extraordinarily important part of the Internet ecosystem, and having a robust presence there is a critical part of any brand (or company’s) strategy.

But Facebook is a for profit, advertising and data-driven company. If you seat mission critical portions of your business inside its walls, you are driving value to Facebook – and you are presuming the trade, in terms of traffic and virality, will come out on balance favoring you. I wouldn’t count on that. Facebook will always have more data than you do about how consumers use the Facebook platform, and will always be able to leverage that data more effectively.

Not to mention, have you checked out Facebook’s terms of service when it comes to using data derived from its platform? Here are a few choice terms that come from a quick perusal (sources are here and here):

– You own your own content, but you grant Facebook license to use it as well.

– You may only request user data needed to operate your app (if you create a Facebook app as part of your presence on Facebook).

– You may not use data collected in your app in your other advertising efforts (including ad networks).

– You may not integrate analytics from third party sources into your efforts inside Facebook. Facebook, however, can gather data from how your app or page is used for their own advertising programs.

– Facebook reserves the right to do exactly what you’re doing at any time – if you create a killer new app inside Facebook, and it takes off, Facebook can decide to do the same thing. (Clearly Facebook isn’t motivated to do this if it angers a major advertising partner, but this term does give pause).

– Facebook reserves the right to market your work in Facebook’s own promotional efforts.But if you want to promote what you are doing on Facebook across third party advertising networks out on the Independent Web, you must get written permission.*

(I’ll be writing more about terms of service in general in another post). 

Now, I don’t think Facebook’s terms are particularly crazy, they’re written by lawyers looking to protect and  preserve as much value as possible for Facebook as a corporation. They have the right to do so, and they are quite open and transparent about their policies.

But it drives me crazy to see major brands using expensive television time to drive consumers to a Facebook program that lives exclusively inside Facebook. (I imagine the reverse is true when Facebook executives see those same ads). I’m sure it works in the short term – you get folks there, they “like” or “follow” your brand, and they engage in whatever promotion or campaign is currently running. But if that campaign, promotion, or program lives only on Facebook, well, good luck deriving all the value you possibly can from it.

If that same program lives out on the Independent web – your own site, on your own domain, with your own platform – then you own all the data and insights, and you can broker those assets back into a Facebook page, or anywhere else you may care to. It doesn’t work the other way around. Imagine trying to replicate the value you create in a Facebook-exclusive program into, say, Google+ or Twitter, or in a major buy across an agency trading desk. Not with the terms outlined above.

It’s not like Facebook is stopping brands from leveraging the service out on the open web – that’s the point of the Open Graph, after all (and it’s what Causes is using now). Facebook knows that independence is critical to the future of the Internet, and has created tools to insure it’s a major player there. My advice: use those tools inside your own presence on the web. But put your taproot into soil that you control, soil that is shared by the millions of other independent voices on the web. That insures you’ll be part of a free and open ecosystem where serendipity and opportunity can create wonderful new possibilities.

—-

*Thanks to my researcher, LeeAnn Prescott, for analysis of these terms. If I’ve gotten any of this wrong, I hope folks from Facebook and/or my smarter-than-I-am readership will correct me, and I’ll update this post accordingly. 

Also, an important caveat – I am founder and Chair of a company that promotes the Independent Web, and operates a significant network for the purposes of advertising. 

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22 thoughts on “Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web

  1. “Companies that have planted their presence too deeply into the soils of
    Facebook are going to realize they need to control their own destiny,
    and move their focus and their core presence back into the independent
    waters of the open Internet”

    Thank you for stating this! I wrote something similar back in December of 2009. http://www.lightbulbinteractive.com/blog/facebook-2009-aol-1998-with-one-big-difference/

  2. [...] Battelle has a great post up titled “Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web“. It’s worth [...]

  3. [...] “Put Your Taproot Into The Independent Web“, John urged companies and brands not to place all their eggs in the Facebook basket, stating [...]

  4. [...] “appworld,” on the one hand, and the trend toward planting our personal and corporate taproots too deeply in the soils of Facebook, on the other. Johnson surveys centuries of important, world changing [...]

  5. Lots of food for thought here. I’m interested moreso in how this can be applied for regular folks, individuals who don’t have the resources or know-how to establish a web presence outside Facebook/Twitter. Some more thoughts here…http://walterhiggins.net/blog/Own-Your-Own-Mothership.html

  6. Anne Hill says:

    Great post John, and I really appreciate the taproot metaphor. Got me fired up about authors, who use the walled gardens of Amazon and Facebook so much. Here’s my Sunday morning screed on the subject, with links back to 2 of your articles:
    http://creativecontentcoaching.com/authors-where-is-the-taproot-web-presence/

  7. [...] their own gardens while conditions are ripe. Using Battelle’s apt metaphor, authors need to anchor their taproot on an independent website or [...]

  8. [...] into a Facebook page, or anywhere else you may care to. It doesn’t work the other way around. # Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web # Un constat d’ailleurs vertement partagé par notre experte en médias sociaux: Nouveaux [...]

  9. [...] those lines, it’s the author’s tap root into the independent [...]

  10. [...] Google, and others. (It’s why I chose the image above for this post – put your roots in the independent web, and let your voice be heard and circulate throughout the whole [...]

  11. [...] none of these services comprise what I call the Independent Web, as I describe it in this post: Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web. And over time, it’s come to bother me that my content and my usage has been aggregated into [...]

  12. [...] we don’t become “gadgets” might well have been the inspiration for my post Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web, for example (he implores us to create, deeply, and not be lured into expressing ourselves solely [...]

  13. [...] nature – which is to say, advertising that acts much like the content it supports. But as I’ve advised in the past, those platforms simply don’t work as home bases for people who want to make a living from [...]

  14. [...] “Put Your Taproot Into The Independent Web“, John urged companies and brands not to place all their eggs in the Facebook basket, stating [...]

  15. [...] as brands can’t afford to ignore it, neither can publishers. But we have to be smart – don’t put your taproot in the soils of social, but rather leverage it to take care of your [...]

  16. [...] are profiting from, and controlling, the works of individuals, I can’t stress enough: Put your taproot in the independent web. Use the platforms for free distribution (they’re using you for free content, after all). And [...]

  17. [...] is why I wrote Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web two years ago. If you’re going to build something, don’t build on land someone else [...]

  18. [...] to the future of the Internet, and has created tools to insure it’s a major player there,” John Battelle wrote two years ago. “My advice: use those tools inside your own presence on the web. But put your [...]