Monday, February 7, 2011

Facebook: Pay Our Way or Get Out

By Chadwick Matlin
Friday, January 28, 2011

As Facebook starts to host all sorts of commerce -- and is now mandating the use of its currency -- perhaps it's time to stop thinking of it as a company and start thinking of it as a country.

"The strength of a nation's currency is based on the strength of a nation's economy." Richard Nixon, circa 1971, announcing that foreign governments could no longer convert U.S. dollars into gold.

"If you're a very large company, and supporting you is going to cost us tens of millions of dollars, then we want to at least have an understanding of how you're going to use what we're doing, and that you're not going to just import the data but also contribute back to the ecosystem and make peoples' Facebook experience better." —Mark Zuckerberg, circa 2010, explaining its agreements with social game companies that bring in 30% revenue cuts to Facebook.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that by July 1 developers that have apps on the site must make their users pay for virtual goods using Facebook's official currency, Facebook Credits. Along with Credits come fees: 30% of every credit spent goes to Facebook.

Smaller developers, of course, aren't pleased. They would rather avoid paying Facebook altogether. Facebook, meanwhile, would rather avoid being a site that confuses its users with dozens of currencies.

At first glance, the move suggests Facebook has become a monetary autocracy, forcing the companies critical to its success to use its currency, and to pay a fee for doing so. But on second thought, isn't that more or less how taxes work? As Facebook grows and starts to host all sorts of commerce, perhaps it's time to stop thinking of the social network as a company. Maybe it's best to think of it as a country.

Imagine, for a moment, that you're the central banker of a country with nearly 600 million residents. Your economy is growing quickly, and the bigger it gets, the more foreign investors are knocking at your door, trying to hawk their wares and build within your borders. Nobody knows how much your economy is actually worth -- some place the GDP at $50 billion, making it the 73rd largest economy in the world, though everyone agrees that your country will be a global force for years to come.

But there's one sector of your economy that won't fall in line. By the end of the year, it'll be worth over a billion dollars and it has proved to be sustainable even during an economic downturn. But a lot of the companies that make up the industry don't want to use the national currency. They'd rather use their own currencies and avoid a hefty 30% tax on all transactions.

But, as a wise central banker, you know that for a country to grow its economy, it needs a singular currency so the proletariat doesn't get confused. You've been able to convince the largest companies to use the national currency, but rogue stragglers remain. What do you do?

Tell them they can either use the currency or get the hell out.

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