Beware The Roach Motel

It’s easy to see why millions of people have turned to Facebook and Twitter as their preferred repository of content. More people are storing pictures on Facebook than any other service including Flickr. That’s millions of photos, links, status updates, even blog posts each day hosted for free by a service which is heading towards a billion users.

Everyone is doing it so it must be OK, right?roach motel

Twitter is no different, growing by leaps and bounds and right into the public conscience. Since joining Twitter in December of 2006, I’ve added 30,326 tweets to the system.

Facebook doesn’t provide an easy way to see how much content I’ve put into their system, but it’s a lot.

Should I be worried?

Both Facebook and Twitter are free. At least today they are. Maybe they will always remain so, but I’ve been conditioned to consider what I’m giving up in return for using a free service.

As best I can tell, I’m giving up my personal information to Facebook to be sold to advertisers whose ads show up on my Wall. But I’m not entirely certain. I could be giving up more or less.

I’ve locked down my privacy settings as tight as I can. But I’m skeptical because every so often, Facebook tends to forget them and begins blasting me with email every time someone posts to a group I belong to.

On Twitter, I have no idea what I’m giving up. Occasionally I’ll see a promoted tweet which leads me to believe someone is paying Twitter for placement in my twitter stream. But I don’t know for certain.

And that’s the problem.

When I pay Bluehost about $100 each year to host my blog, I know exactly what I’m giving up in order to use their service. The rules are clear and agreed upon by both parties. There shouldn’t be any surprises.

But using free online services like Facebook and Twitter leaves me with an uneasy feeling that the rules can change anytime without my knowledge. What if Facebook decided to index what products I like and display them friends in a manner that looks as if I’m endorsing them? Oh wait, they did that.

What if Twitter allowed companies to index all my tweets and then offer products and services based those I mention right there in my tweet stream? Or maybe Twitter could one day decide to promote some users over others? Whoops, they did that.

I’ve made a large commitment to these services based on the amount of content they are freely hosting on my behalf. What if their business models don’t pan out and they disappear overnight? All that content of mine could be flushed down the virtual toilet. It was probably never mine to begin with.

That’s why my blog has become more valuable in the era of status updates and tweets. Unlike free services, I own the content I post to my blog. I can decide to run ads or not. I don’t have to worry about upsetting the admins and having my account suspended. I other words, I have control over my content.

With a few clicks, I’m able to easily backup each of the nearly 2000 posts in minutes. Try backing up all your content on Facebook or Twitter, and you’ll see it’s not easy to do. Why is that?

Because neither Facebook or Twitter want to make it easy for you to migrate your content to a competing service. Maybe Facebook and Twitter don’t face stiff competition today, but who knows in a few years from now. Didn’t MySpace once look unstoppable? That wasn’t long ago either.

Think about where you place your most valuable content. And ask yourself what you’re giving up by using that hip new free service everyone is talking about. Consider posting content to your blog and using Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic back to the place you have some control.

Beware the roach motel.