So much for a quiet period? Even though Facebook recently filed its S-1, the updates just keep coming. We recently learned that brands would be getting the Timeline treatment at the end of the month, and now TechCrunch says Facebook has taken a page out of Twitter’s book and will introduce verified accounts as well as the ability for users to create pseudonyms for those accounts.
The site has long championed a “real name” policy, although enforcing this has been incredibly lax. Many users have defied the system with their user names (points at self), and Facebook has very loosely policed this. Google+ attempted a more severe structure and was quick to oust faked names (and in some cases, real ones it didn’t trust). Of course, by now we know that G+ compromised and eventually allowed users to include a nickname with their profile.
So while Facebook hasn’t been a watchdog about this, it now officially accepts pseudonyms for verified accounts. Selected users (those with very high subscriber numbers) will see an option to verify their accounts. Celebrities and public figures are obviously the beneficiaries here, and Facebook decides who gets the privilege. The site will manually patrol the verified account registrations, as well as registered aliases, and applicants will have to send Facebook government-issue ID or two alternate IDs (which the site will delete later).
It’s all very similar to the process Twitter went through when it first introduced verified accounts (obviously, alternate names were not an issue on the site). The site was plagued by celebrity impersonators, which was hurting its legitimacy — as well as frustrating businesses trying to use the site and its famous users for marketing purposes. The solution was simple, and has since spawned entirely new avenues for marketing via the platform. Google+ went through a similar transformation.
Facebook likely wants to push the same strategy with its new subscription feature. Once an account is verified, it will be pushed more frequently in the suggested subscriptions section. However, the site will not be using any visual icons for users to identify when an account is verified. So if your name just happens to be Justin Timberlake, some confusion might remain without something notifying users whether they are or aren’t following the more famous Timberlake.
It’s definitely a deviation from Facebook’s original focus, which was very much about connecting real people, not validating celebrity. And while Twitter has become a popular haven for the famous and their followers (and an advertiser’s paradise), Facebook would be wise to remember it has a much more stable revenue model than the microblogging site does. Facebook is really trying to push this idea of subscribing to the more famous among us, but it just isn’t as naturally positioned for this as Twitter. Twitter is more passive and users are more apt to watch and listen, but on Facebook we’re more interactive — something the subscriber feature isn’t really about.
The lack of pushing celebrity Internet presence (in comparison to other social sites) on Facebook has been somewhat refreshing. Relatively speaking, it’s been much more about “real” people.
But it’s Facebook’s world and we’re all just living in it. The site’s evolution is unstoppable, and we’ve seen significant change over the last year especially. And how it shapes the platform from now on will have more to do with its investors and financial future — it can’t take as many risks or ignore potential profit.