With all the talk about the need for Net Neutrality, both the world's largest search engine and a major telecom company seem to be speaking with forked tongue. While Google and Verizon say they support an Open Internet, they hedge that position by also favoring a system that charges for premium services. If they are successful, it's very possible we may be paying for our social media in the forseeable future.
Since communication has evolved from television to the Internet, companies like Google and Verizon are supporting their case by noting the similarities of paying for premium cable versus standard TV feeds. In a PCWorld report, both of these companies are described as "wolves in sheep's clothing - developing a proposal to very narrowly define net neutrality, and with enough built-in intricacy and double speak to leave the door wide open for industry players to interpret net neutrality to fit their needs."
Where Google and Verizon stand to gain is being able to segment out a "Private Internet" that can charge for premium services. These services would be determined by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to manage their networks as they see fit. Google, for instance sees an opportunity to charge a premium fee for health monitoring services and 'optimized' gaming sites.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how this 'hybrid' form of net neutrality would play out in the world of social media. In the case of the social networking platform Ning, their freemium model is officially closed for business. Starting in June, Ning initiated a "premium only" offering to its users.
And unfortunately Ning looks like they may have made the right decision. According to an Econsultancy report, there are 45,000 users paying for Ning services, and this milestone is triple the premium user-ship before the company decided to ditch its fermium model. As of this posting, Ning says that it is adding paying subscribers at 5,000 a month, three times the previous rate.
Facebook, the largest social network globally is viewed as a free utility, and its 500 million followers tolerate because it is free. When Google and Verizon made their announcement, it was somewhat surprising that Facebook became the most prominent Internet company to part ways with Google. According to Miguel Helft at the NY Times, Facebook slammed the company for putting together a proposal that said betrayed neutrality principles. "Other Internet heavyweights that are part of the Open Internet Coalition, like Amazon and eBay appeared to be concerned with Google's compromise, but were less vocal about it," noted Helft.
So the debate continues. Social networks that are affected by this controversy have not all weighed in. Back in February, Twitter indicated they would be selling commercial accounts to power users where companies and brands would get "more features" on Twitter in exchange for a fee. However, its been five months, and no updates have been released.
If social media comes with a price tag, are you willing to pick up the freight? Let us know where you sit on this issue?