An About-Facebook

Well, that was fast.

Days after Facebook posted updated terms of service that effectively granted the site perpetual, irrevocable rights to all original content posted there, management has relented, reverting to its earlier terms till further notice. As CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Tuesday night blog post:

Our next version will be a substantial revision from where we are now. It will reflect the principles I described yesterday around how people share and control their information, and it will be written clearly in language everyone can understand. Since this will be the governing document that we'll all live by, Facebook users will have a lot of input in crafting these terms. [Emphasis added.]

Partners, too. Zuckerberg wrote that the decision was made after he and his team "reached out to respected organizations to get their input." We don't know whom, but if I had to guess, I'd say that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) , its most visible investor, was Zuckerberg's first call, followed by Washington Post (NYSE: WPO  ) , whose chairman, Donald Graham, sits on Facebook's board.

Regardless, the changes are an improvement. User input will be collected via a group entitled "Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities." A five-point response at the group's page addresses concerns raised by users, including yours truly. "We never intended to claim ownership over people's content," reads point # 5.

Glad to hear it, and not just because I'm a content creator. Facebook, like Twitter, LinkedIn, and News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace, is a connector, not a publisher. Acting like one could raise the hackles of those who really do own content, and who've gone to court protect it. Viacom (NYSE: VIA  ) , for example, sued Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) YouTube for failing to protect its copyrights.

Content isn't the key to Facebook's business, anyway. It thrives off the habits of its 175 million users, who are fed targeted ads each time they visit the site. If Facebook managed $300 million in 2008 revenue, as was expected, it's because its servers delivered enough relevant pitches to its users.

Relevancy needs to be Facebook's focus. Too often, my Facebook pages display ads that are worthless. Suze Orman's new e-book? Um, Mark, she's a competitor. Snow goggles? If only I were a skier. Facebook doesn't know me as well as it should.

Kudos to Facebook for stepping back from the content abyss. Terms of service do matter. But the service itself matters a lot more.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. You'll have to excuse its disclosure policy; it's breakfast time, and we've taught it not to speak with its mouth full.


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