Facebook: The Private Internet

Illustration: Brent Humphreys

This article popped up on Wired a few days ago and has elicited a number of spirited discussions amongst my colleagues and friends.

The great wall of Facebook: The Social Network’s Plan to Dominate the Internet – and Keep Google Out.

http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/17-07/ff_facebookwall

FACEBOOK’S 4-Step Plan for Online Domination

Mark Zuckerberg has never thought of his company as a mere social network. He and his team are in the middle of a multiyear campaign to change how the Web is organized—with Facebook at the center. Here’s how they hope to pull it off.

1 – Sell targeted ads, everywhere. Facebook hopes to one day sell advertising across all of its partner sites and apps, not just on its own site. The company will be able to draw on the immense volume of personal data it owns to create extremely targeted messages.

2 – The challenge: not freaking out its users in the process. Build critical mass. In the eight months ending in April, Facebook has doubled in size to 200 million members, who contribute 4 billion pieces of info, 850 million photos, and 8 million videos every month.

3 – The result: a second Internet, one that includes users’ most personal data and resides entirely on Facebook’s servers. Redefine search. Facebook thinks its members will turn to their friends—rather than Google’s algorithms—to navigate the Web. It already drives an eyebrow-raising amount of traffic to outside sites, and that will only increase once Facebook Search allows users to easily explore one another’s feeds.

4 – Colonize the Web. Thanks to a pair of new initiatives—dubbed Facebook Connect and Open Stream—users don’t have to log in to Facebook to communicate with their friends. Now they can access their network from any of 10,000 partner sites or apps, contributing even more valuable data to Facebook’s servers every time they do it.

Taking a step back for a moment, last year, Microsoft sunk in a hefty $240 Million USD into Facebook returning back 5% ownership of the new kid on the block, which yielded an extrapolated worth of $15 billion USD. Not bad Mr Zuckerberg. Ostensibly, this investment was a fast start to allow Microsoft to deploy its BING search technology, which is Microsoft’s latest attempt to cash in on the search market which Google & Overture (Yahoo!) have dominated for so long. As an aside, some of my colleagues have referred to BING as “But It’s Not Google” which brings a smile to my face. The creation of the private index for Microsoft’s & Facebook’s own use is what fascinates me more, as with a large pool of active users, the gathered data around trending topics and user preferences is simply staggering.

Now specifically – will it work? Will Facebook’s effort’s to create a 2nd, “closed” network of information and activity tailored on its network of users yield much needed revenue and deliver monetary value to shareholders without alienating users?

Facebook’s efforts at creating a personalised experience for its user base and deliver a complexity and depth of targeted advertising that will surpass anything that has occurred before has a big challenge ahead of it. Part of this will be the delivery to its audience that walks that fine line of not annoying them yet offers value and ultimately makes their browsing experience more enriched. The challenges Facebook has is minimising the impact on the user experience or compromising the privacy of its users – and advertisers. As the user audiences learn to adopt the baseline delivery which encompasses the above, they will become less concerned about such foibles, instead preferring to manage their information in an appropriate fashion.

The heart of this issues is our faith. We put it to blind faith that our erstwhile corporate overseers that make up the organisations like Google, Facebook, etc will do the “right” thing from an ethical and moral standpoint with our information and our online personas.

I actually don’t personally mind that in my Facebook profile, I have in my interests listed “Mountain Biking, Snow Skiing and Adventure Racing” and am getting ad served specific information around cheap snow ski accommodation at Falls Creek, MTB insurance and adventure racing sales at my favourite online store. It’s cool and relevent to me and currently doesn’t impact too much on my day to day.

What I object too is the stance that the disasterous Beacon trials went through mid to late 2007 when suddenly users are portrayed to their trusted friends network as having looked at or endorsed a product or service, which may have through natural attrition been discarded as irrelevant, unsuitable or whatever other metric we care to value judge things by.

With the steroid driven BING Search technology now mining data and being analysed to levels never seen before, trends are being spotted in real time around social clusters – the users friendship network, meaning the relevence and value it offers users is significantly increased. If Facebook starts to spam its audience in any way – whether it be email, pop ups on in the browser or larger and more imposing add space, they better be ready to receive a massive drop in their active user base.

The original appeal of Facebook in the first place was that it was a relatively austere and add free environment, to connect and stay in touch with your friends. If it becomes a newspaper of your friends lives, then, the audience will be there, but its focus and preferences will shift with the next new thing.

Then Facebook will be back to square one – how to make money?

All things considered, now that Facebook has shown the usefulness of having a network which is closed, and offers insight into what our friends are doing, thinking and their opinions, I think if I were given the option of having an advertising free experience, on a closed network which only presented me my friends updates, photos and information, I’d be comfortable paying for it.

I wonder if this is a viable option now.

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