Jesse Kornbluth has a cautionary tale for Facebook, which he says he worked for a decade ago. "Back then, it was called America Online," he writes in the Wall Street Journal. Kornbluth was AOL's editorial director from 1997 to 2003. In those days, AOL had lots of great content, but what really mattered was its community section—which "was Facebook before there was Facebook." That's what drove the growth of the service. At the same time, "we had only modest adult supervision, and we made the most of it."
But then in 1998, "a Taliban of white male MBAs swept in and brought the editorial team to heel," forcing it to churn out "dumbed-down, vanilla fare." They started worrying that community wasn't being properly monetized, shuttering message boards that weren't profitable enough. You know what happened next. Now it's Facebook's turn. With its IPO looming, "the pressure to exploit 845 million users has got to be intense." Its staffers should heed the lesson of AOL's demise: "Customers, if taken for granted, move on."