Dare Obasanjo digs into the new advertising platform launched by Facebook: Facebook Beacon is Unfixable. I have enjoyed Facebook a great deal, but this kind of thing is pretty bad.
Like many of my fellow online marketing analysis, researchers, and consultants (et al.) I’ve been following (and participating in!) Facebook for quite a while now. The story is well known now – Facebook and social networks in general are the new belles of the ball, and everyone’s scrambling to figure out what that means to them.
A few weeks ago I went to FacebookCamp Montreal, and the kick-off presentation by Colin Smillie and Roy Pereira, from Toronto’s Refresh Partners presented some Facebook demographics which were interesting, but at first blush, quite mundane. Sure, Facebook is huge and growing, got it. Still, though I couldn’t put my finger on it, something was bugging me after seeing the graphs and tables laid out.
Last week, there was a post in Techcrunch that again spoke to Facebook’s demographics: Facebook Is Almost 2/3 Women (and other stats), but this time the numbers, and their implications, leapt out at me.
In Canada, we’re used to being just behind the leading edge of internet trends. We’re early adopters, and heavy internet users – but if you really want to know where this stuff is going, the tendency is to look to the Bay Area and South to Silicon Valley, not in our own backyard. The demographics of Facebook paint a very different picture. It’s clear that if you really want to understand the meaning and implications of Facebook, your analysis should start in Canada, not in the US.
The US is an oddball in the Facebook universe, an outlier whose demographics are clearly not representative of either the present or the future of Facebook – and US usage is probably not a good indicator of trends related to either Facebook, or, likely, social networking in general. In the US, Facebook membership is much smaller as a proportion of population than in Canada (or the UK and several other leading countries). The population in the US is markedly younger as well, and more male-dominated than it is in Canada and elsewhere. There are lots of reasons for this – most notably the traction that Facebook achieved early on in strictly college-based populations – but this deformed the growth of Facebook in the US and the demographics continue to suggest that the US is not in the mainstream of Facebook tendencies and trends.
I’m not in any way suggesting that there’s something wrong with the US – just that any serious analysis of Facebook and the changes they introduce should isolate, to some degree, US usage patterns from the rest of the world, particularly Canada. The mainstream of Facebook adoption is – and has been for at least 6 months – outside the US.
In my feed reader just now I noticed a brief mention by John Battelle: Paid Links, Selling Links… Not Good. When you click through to the article and to the Google help page – and remembering the commotion a couple of weeks ago about some complaints that people’s Page Rank had suddenly dropped – a very encouraging pattern is starting to emerge.
Google has always taken the soundness of their systems very seriously, but I don’t think it’s coincidental that Google seems to be addressing some of the issues surrounding paid links and the like more seriously now that Facebook has made some aggressive strides into the advertising world. I think someone at Google realizes that alongside and within its ranking and presentation via search of the whole web, they also – without Orkut or OpenSocial or anything else – already have a “social graph” embedded in their databases – and one that has already proven to be more valuable than closed social networks’ social graphs.
The initial promise and reality of blogrolls (say, pre-2003), after all, was that they served as a way to declare, publicly, that such-and-such a blogger was someone you either knew or respected personally. That is the social graph right there, and Google’s always had it. The best part? There was a cost to adding someone to your blogroll (time, dilution, etc.), which served (somewhat) to pare down those lists and make them more accurate representations of bloggers’ personal preference.
The important thing about the social graph is that to be valid and useful as a commercial endeavour, connections must accurately reflect a person’s authentic relationship, whether that be with a friend, an issue-related BOF, a colleague, or anyone else. To date this has been the strength of Facebook – they made it easy for people to add friends, but through the News Feed (among other things) added a cost to doing so – which has (so far) tended to “purify” people’s contact lists in a way that MySpace’s and others’ lists never were.
Facebook is winning (by some measures) because users’ networks more closely resemble real-life relationships – Facebook isn’t, by-and-large, a friend-adding contest. Anything Google can do to ensure their results are accurate and reflect authentic relationships is likely as important in the long run as anything they do with OpenSocial. (Now if only they would do something about all of the spam blogs on Blogger).
Sebastien Provencher has written a very good post about the new Facebook advertising opportunities that were announced this week: The Facebook Community is Worried. I was at the Montreal Facebook Camp on Wednesday night and was struck by the fact that no one seemed to have a clear idea on what opportunities might really exist within Facebook, other than for small app developers. There was a lot of noise about “we will go where our customers are, of course” – but from the same folks that spend most of the budgets they have on overwrought flash monstrosities.
Today Google announced that MySpace, Bebo and SixApart are all joining OpenSocial in addition to the initial group that was reported two days ago. I was under the impression that Six Apart was already on board, but MySpace is the biggest news here anyhow.
This news makes the story even bigger than it already was, but I’m not sure that it checkmates Facebook, or even that it’s an aggressive move against them. I presume they are welcome to join OpenSocial. If there’s a checkmate here, it might be Microsoft whose king has been toppled. The MS investment last week in Facebook was based on a valuation that to a great extent relied on the perceived lock-in that Facebook has on its users. If that lock-in disappears, it completely changes the game.
Even more interesting for me than the Facebook-Microsoft angles to this are some of the unheralded partners in OpenSocial – particularly Salesforce.com and LinkedIn. Facebook is phenomenal at what it does, but what it does well is quite limited to “real” non-business social relationships – and despite what many have proposed, I don’t think there was a way for Facebook to route around that. OpenSocial, with both business-focused and personally-focused partners, has potential for growth in far more directions than Facebook has.
One question: whither OpenID? One of the great promises of OpenSocial is federated digital identity plus profiles… Can/will Google make this happen in a way that will keep communities that have thought long and hard about this happy? I sure hope so.