With Facebook Stories, Social Net Finally Lets Users Speak Up for It

Last Updated Jul 19, 2010 3:42 PM EDT

Every time Facebook goes through a privacy controversy, it's worth asking whether the behemoth social network has actually learned a damn thing from what some view as a series of transgressions that trample all over user privacy and experience. But as it nears the 500-million user threshold -- which it's expected to pass this week -- it could be that Facebook is finally learning to do one essential thing: how to surface the value that hundreds of millions of users derive from the service.

That's the first thing that came to mind when I read about "Facebook Stories," the marketing campaign Facebook is using to herald its milestone. While most of the press about Facebook lately has demonized it, "Facebook Stories" will probably do just the opposite -- by bringing individual, human voices to articulate the benefits of the Facebook experience.

The center of the whole thing is a yet-to-be-unveiled Facebook page that will originally focus on 200 user stories about that the company has collected over the years. This being social media, it will be augmented by other users sharing their Facebook stories, who can do so via a form that is now live on the site. Of course, these stories can be "Like"-d, attached to user profiles and so forth. You didn't expect "Facebook Stories" to be a TV campaign, did you?

What will no doubt surface are the kind of heart-warming stories that used to be reserved for the pages of Reader's Digest. Stories of communities using Facebook to come together to help a family in need; stories of finding a long-lost love on Facebook; of finally being able to easily share photos with grandpa, and so on. It will be cheesy. And it will work. Facebook will always have its detractors, but this effort will reinforce the reasons why those 500 million people got on Facebook in the first place -- to connect with their fellow humans in times of happiness, sadness and hilarity. (Oh, and because people they know in the real world pressured them into it.)

This campaign is hardly genius. In fact, Facebook execs seem a little slow on the uptake in finally sharing individual users stories now -- the social net has been collecting them for years. As Facebook marketing honcho Randi Zuckerberg (yes, sister of that other Zuckerberg), told AllThingsD on Friday: "In the past, it's been all about the numbers and milestones, and we realized we had never taken the opportunity to celebrate users." Well, duh.

"Facebook Stories" may finally show Facebook that the best way to combat constant assaults from the privacy police and regulators is with stories of Facebook-inspired engagements, how it helped raise funds for causes important to some parts of its community, and, of course, with pictures of the new puppy shared amongst far-flung family members, replacing anger with "Awwwwww."