One of the most widely recognized social media applications in the world today is Facebook. People use it for everything from email to event planning to entertainment. You can manipulate your profile to display every detail of your life or nothing. You can build an online profile to represent yourself in any fashion you want to.
But being open to the community doesn’t make Facebook property of the community.
I do a lot of work with open source software. It’s “community owned” in the sense that the user community defines development directions, feature sets, and release dates. WordPress, for example, has evolved from merely being a blog engine to running enterprise-level content management systems because the community wanted it to. While Automattic technically publishes the software, the community owns it in every sense of the word.
Facebook, on the other hand, is proprietary software with a development schedule and feature roadmap entirely defined by the company that owns it. The community might be the foundation on which Facebook sits, but it has absolutely zero say in the development conversation.
When the WordPress user interface and layout changes, it’s because the community demanded the change. When Facebook’s interface changes, the community usually demands that it change back. This is the dilemma caused by community software that is not the property of the community.
So when exactly does community software give its ownership over to the community that uses it? Is it when the source code becomes open to the world? Probably not. Google Chrome’s source is open, but core development is still heavily limited to the goals and ambitions of Google. Is it when the voice of the community becomes louder than the voice of the developer? Not likely. We never hear about changes in Facebook until they happen, but we hear complaints about them for months after the change.
Community software becomes community property when the developers begin to listen to the users. When the users begin to define the software and the developers give over the reins, only then does software evolve into something more flexible. Many people think Facebook is on track to become community owned software eventually, but at the moment it’s nowhere close.