Yesterday, for obvious reasons, I was in a crappy mood all day. So I turned to my favorite resource for lightening a sour mood, which is Regretsy. After reading a few pages of it until I was all caught up, I looked up at the links at the top and decided to check them out. I found People of Walmart to be unfunny, since most of the "humor" comes from poking fun at people for being ugly, fat, or unable to afford better-fitting clothes. But Lamebook is another story entirely. Lamebook is funny because it, like Regretsy, gets its humor straight from the goofier aspects of human nature. I particularly like all the posts involving parents interacting with their children on Facebook. Facebook is great, but it was only until moms started to join Facebook that it really became the centerpiece of the new American renaissance, I say.
The site cheered me up immensely, which is why I was sad to see a link at the top of the page asking for money for their legal fund. They're in some legal shit with Facebook over copyright quarreling, they say. A little googling showed that this is indeed true, and Facebook's rationale is as poor and mean-spirited as you could imagine:
In response to the complaint, Facebook deemed it “unfortunate” that Lamebook had turned to litigation after “months of working with Lamebook to amicably resolve what we believe is an improper attempt to build a brand that trades off Facebook’s popularity and fame”.
Facebook is claiming that the site can't hide behind satire, which is funny, because I personally laughed my ass off for hours. Human nature might be the main target of Lamebook, but the way that Facebook has drawn out certain tendencies in people is definitely part of that. But what really annoyed me was that Facebook expressed petulant anger that someone else out there is OMG building off their popularity and fame. Which in no way, shape or form takes jack shit away from Facebook. If anything, Lamebook probably just makes readers want to use Facebook even more, since it highlights some of the best reasons to waste hours on Facebook (such as laughing at the way people can be). I know it had that effect on me. I'm trying to imagine if creative artists reacted to each other in this way. Can you imagine, say, Dr. Dre being so stupid as to not work with Eminem because he doesn't want anyone to benefit from his pre-existing reputation?
This entire situation is a great demonstration of why the ready assumption that businesspeople are motivated mainly be a rational desire to increase profits is a really dumb one. But you see that assumption all the time! You see it with libertarians, who argue that we don't need regulation because the profit motive makes markets self-correcting, as if they were mindless machines that aren't influenced by some of the more irrational thinking of actual human beings. And you see it with liberals, who make the opposite assumption---they believe that business is solely motivated by profit, and that means businesspeople are bound to make harmful choices if that's how best to make a profit. The truth is way more complicated. Yes, profit motive is a big deal, and that sometimes results in good business decisions, as libertarians insist, and it sometimes results in BP spilling unimaginable amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, as liberals insist. But insisting that businesspeople act mostly out of pure rationality is giving them too much credit. I think it's also important to remember how much irrationality impacts business choices.
This is a perfect example. There's no rational reason, really, for Facebook to get all legal on Lamebook. Lamebook does nothing to hurt Facebook's profits or brand. They almost surely just improve Facebook's standing. The site isn't about social networking in general. In fact, it's Facebook-only structure ends up highlighting some of the benefits of Facebook over other social networking sites.
It seems Facebook is acting out the long-standing tradition of being butthurt. Can they really not take a joke over there? If anything is hurting the Facebook brand, creating the impression that you're a bunch of humorless prigs masquerading as hip young entrepreneurs will do it. The best response to Lamebook would have been not to try to shut it down but to use its existence as a marketing opportunity, perhaps by putting out a press release highlighting how you're honored that Facebook is so popular it provides them with more material to work with than they could ever use.
The thing to understand when trying to look at how big business works in the world is that big business is run by human beings, and they're often human beings with giant, easily hurt egos. As Matt noted recently, one of the biggest problems with this model of business as being a completely rational profit-creation machine is that it obscures the fact that a lot of people in the top echelons of these businesses have more luck than brains. Peter Thiel of Facebook, for instance, seems like he's a particularly dim bulb who basically pulled a winning lottery ticket by giving money to Facebook. There's a thousand Peter Thiels who gamble and fail for every one that succeeds, but we only look at the successes and therefore draw incorrect conclusions about their rationality and intelligence. But just because Thiel got really lucky with Facebook doesn't mean he's a different person---he's still a libertarian douchebag who swims in fantasies of escaping the meanie government by getting into seasteading.
Ego is a major deal in the world of business. A lot of poor decisions stem from the heavy amounts of ego-stroking and egomania amongst the power players in capitalism. Ego isn't rational. If you ever see business mindlessly resisting perfectly reasonable government regulation, and wonder why they care so much even though it's probably not going to hurt their bottom line that much? Ego. A lot of business people give lots of money to groups that promote the message that regulation is a "nanny state" not just because they're feeding red meat to the plebes in order to make more money. They also eat that rhetoric up. They like the image that conservatives paint of them, as people who are the smartest and best people in the world, and therefore should be above having to follow laws. If you ever wonder why some rich assholes prefer to give all their money to libertarian organizations instead of just paying their taxes, that's your answer. They enjoy believing they know better than the federal government what to spend money on. One of the major reasons that conservative arguments that we don't need a social safety net because people will just give to charity is wrong is because the charities that rich people spend their money on are usually ones that are best prepared to stroke their egos. Giving to a food bank just creates moral satisfaction. Writing a giant check to a university so they can build a new building means they name it after you. Therefore, the latter has an easier time of fund-raising.
Really, if you think about it, money itself only goes so far. It's what money buys you that makes it so attractive. And one of the biggest things money can buy a person is a relentless ego boost. Which explains why people who already have more money than they could ever hope to spend still will do everything they can, break all sorts of moral rules, to make more money. The bigger the number in the bank account, the better they feel about themselves. It's why it's not enough to be rich, but also to resent not-rich people who try to make a better life for themselves. Fabulous wealth looks even better when it's compared to poverty instead of middle class comfort. Even the more generous and kind capitalists out there seem to have irrationally large egos, which is why I found it more disturbing than funny that Bill Gates won't let his kids have iPods. It's that kind of thinking that seems to be underlying Lamebook's legal troubles---less that Facebook sees a threat to its profits and more that the management at Facebook cannot stand the idea that someone has an irreverent attitude towards their product.