By Harry McCracken | Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 2:44 pm
Last week, Facebook reversed some changes it had made to its terms of service after it faced an uprising of unhappy members who weren’t pacified by founder Mark Zuckberg’s initial explanation of why the amendments shouldn’t bother anyone. That was expedient. Today, the company followed up by doing something kind of extraordinary: It’s created drafts of overarching Facebook Principles and specific Facebook Rights and Responsibilities, and is soliciting member feedback on them before they’re finalized. Zuckerberg also says that members will get to vote for or against the revised versions of both documents, although I can’t tell from his post whether those votes will be binding.
The Facebook Rights and Responsibilities aren’t radically different in spirit or style from a traditional TOS document, but they’re written in something closer to plain English than most and go further to explain the rationale behind the rules. But the linkage of this document’s specific policies to the philosophical stuff in the Facebook Principles is a big deal. Most terms of service are about lawyerly ass-covering, but Facebook is trying, at least, to make its rules about fulfilling the company’s mission. And if it truly listens and rolls member feedback into the final versions, that’s cool.
For a company that’s all about conversation and communications, Facebook often comes off as mysterious and autocratic–not just with this recent flap but also with earlier dust-ups like the one over Beacon “social ads.” In the past, it’s done a decent job of listening to members–but only as the third step in a process that usually went A) institute new policy; B) get all defensive when members carp about it; C) revise new policy based on their feedback. It’ll be fascinating to see how flipping that sequence of events around goes; I hope it works wonderfully well and influences other companies to make their terms of service more realistic, idealistic, and comprehensible…and to get their customers in on the conversation early on.
Full disclosure: Technologizer has its own terms of service, which are based on the ones that govern use of WordPress.com, the platform that powers most of our site. I think they’re pretty fair, but they’re definitely traditional in tone and takeaway. According to Google Analytics, they’ve been viewed a grand total of 101 times since this site’s debut–and at least a few of those clicks came from yours truly. But if you’ve got any input on them, lemme know. And I just might come up with a set of Technologizer Principles for your input…