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Facebook, Scrabble, and the Limits of Free

Users and customers are not the same.
Mar | 3 | 2010

Mar | 3 | 2010

Like many people (over 400 million at the time of this writing), I’m on Facebook on a regular basis. Like a smaller number of people, I enjoy playing Scrabble on the site. I also enjoyed (note the past tense here) receiving notifications that it was my turn to play a game. Strike that: games. Plural. I suspect that most people liked having Facebook “push” notifications to them, as opposed to their having to manually pull them every so often. For some reason, however, recently Facebook decided to remove this feature.

This upset many Scrabble players on the site. If you think that we’re not a loyal/borderline psychotic group, then check out Word Wars, an amazing documentary about (you guessed it) Scrabble. Let’s just say that many of us have, er, moderation issues.

Paid vs. Free Services

This got me thinking: Do I have a right to complain? I pay absolutely nothing to Facebook and spend a great deal of time on the site. I get so much out of it but give so little. I’m sure that I have some rights related to privacy and security, but what about a feature on a game for which I am not being charged? Do I have any “rights”?

As a user, do I have any rights?

By way of contrast, I pay Comcast well over $100/month for cable and Internet services. When I have problems with the latter (which has been way too often lately, as evinced by my frequent tweets to @comcastcares), I expect a quick response. But what about free services? What if Facebook charged me a nominal monthly sum? Would that change things? Have we all become so accustomed to “Free” that our expectations are out of whack?


What do you think?

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Blog E Social Media E Facebook, Scrabble, and the Limits of Free

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  1. Jim Harris


    I use Twitter more than Facebook and often encounter issues with the numerous free services for Twitter that I use on a daily basis.

    If I was a paying customer, then I would want to call, e-mail, or even tweet the “customer service department.”

    But like you said, since I don’t pay for their services, do I even have the “right to complain” about free services?

    Free services solicit user feedback as a way to crowdsource ideas for improving the service – but this isn’t the same as customer service.

    Perhaps the distinction between “user” and “customer” simply marks the distinction between “free” and “paid” services?

    But to reverse your question, if I am not paying for it, would I even care enough to complain – er I mean – provide feedback or would I simply stop using the service?

    For a site like Facebook, the challenge is free applications within a service platform, for lack of a better term. Meaning that I might still use Facebook for its many other features and applications even if I (or they) discontinue using (or offering) particular applications.

    And there are certainly many Facebook applications that I would like to see go away – Mafia Wars and Farmville spring easily to mind 🙂

    Sorry for the long rambling comment.

    Best Regards,


  2. Garnie Bolling

    Phil, interesting post, but it drives a point.

    Like @Jim said, user vs customer… that is a good rule of thumb for most providers, but look at the evolution.

    Paid Apps to Open Source. is a good example. If you provide feed back, then Open Source will get better over time. Vs Paid Apps you are at the whim of the product management team, which might have another strategy opposite of the “community” using it.

    When Facebook changed it’s interface, how many of us provided “feedback” … complained… are we still using Facebook… of course. but when Facebook was rumored to copy write your pictures posts, there was a “community” uprising, and the new user agreement had terms changed.

    Do you have a right to complain. Well, do you use the site ? and does the site benefit from your interactions (games and advertisement) ? Yes and Yes… so I say it is in your right to provide feedback… because the driving force for the profit of Facebook is community 🙂

    Wow, did I just write that… I better get some more coffee…

  3. philsimon

    Thanks for the comments, guys.

    @Jim – you make a good point. Crowdsourcing is certainly customer service.

    @Garnie – Yes, Facebook seems to listen to disaffected users, and they’re not alone. Look at what Google recently did when Buzz caused a ruckus.

  4. Ryan Heathers

    You’re still paying Facebook with your time, so yes, I think you have the right to complain at least a little bit. 😉 Free services survive/thrive off usage metrics.

    Plus, smart companies welcome complaints because it means (a) the customer feels passionate about your product and (b) it’s an opportunity to improve.


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