Facebook has announced a major shift in the way it runs its social networking site, after causing a storm of protest earlier in the month when it attempted to amend its terms and conditions and was forced into an embarrassing climb-down.
In an effort to avoid a repetition, Facebook has proposed a new way of running the site. The firm has published two documents, Facebook Principles and a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, and has asked for user feedback.
Facebook Principles covers the rights of individual users of the site, and will act as a framework for future changes. The 10 principles include commitments that users own their own information, that they have a right to decide with whom to share it, and that future decisions about the site are subject to a 'Town Hall' style of democratic discussion.
"I believe these steps are unprecedented in promoting understanding and enabling participation on the web. I hope you will take a look at these documents, read them carefully, and share your thoughts," said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in a blog posting.
"History tells us that systems are most fairly governed when there is an open and transparent dialogue between the people who make decisions and those who are affected by them. We believe history will one day show that this principle holds true for companies as well, and we are looking to moving in this direction with you."
Users are invited to comment on the proposed changes and have until 29 March to do so. If further changes are deemed too contentious, they can be put to a vote, which will be binding if more than 30 per cent of the total user base casts a ballot.
"If Facebook manages to pull this off - to build a healthy and vibrant governance relationship with users - it will prove to be a source of competitive advantage that goes beyond the 'network effect'," said Gartner analyst Ray Valdes.
"On the other hand, if Facebook raises expectations to unrealistic levels and users find that their interests do not align with those of Facebook - it is after all a private business, not a province or state - then there could be big trouble ahead.
"I think that this challenge is not unique to Facebook. They just happen to be at the front of the pack in approaching this phenomenon. Over time, other consumer sites will have to rethink their user engagement strategy, and think less like an electric utility and more like a village, province or state."
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