Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 29, 2010 7:10 PM

The New Face Of Facebook

Put away your preconceived notions of what Facebook is all about.

For a long while, the consensus was that Facebook was the place where high school and university students go online to hangout, hook up, post drunken photos of themselves and act mischievous until the harsh realities of a cold world break their spirits into suits and boring 9-to-5 jobs that suddenly have them driving minivans, listening to James Taylor and reading columns like this (a fate worse than death itself).

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Facebook continues to grow across all demographics and psychographics (from boomers to business people) as online social networking becomes one of the primary ways that people stay connected and communicate. Their latest statistics (according to the Facebook website) paint a very different picture from the general public's perception of what Facebook is. In short, most people see the site as a fad or trend and think it's filled with nothing more than individuals whose sole interest is in creeping on those they went to high school with as some sick psychological game that makes them feel better about themselves and their lot in life. The reality is that Facebook has well over 400 million active users, of which 50 per cent log onto the site every day, resulting in over 500 billion minutes per month. The average user has over 130 friends, is connected to 60 pages, groups and events, and creates over 70 pieces of content each month.

On a global level, Facebook has been translated into over 70 languages (with the help of over 300,000 Facebook users), and 70 per cent of users are from outside the United States. If Facebook were a country, it would now be the third largest in the world based on population (behind China and India but ahead of the United States).

With this many people connected, sharing and creating (according to Facebook, users are currently sharing over 25 billion pieces of content a month), all eyes are on Facebook. Some wonder if this growth can continue, others wonder what the big business model will be, and most brands and businesses are still trying to figure out what the marketing opportunities are in an environment where individuals are primarily there to connect with friends and acquaintances.

Last week, Facebook held their F8 conference in San Francisco. The news of changes happening at Facebook have created shock waves (not ripples) throughout the business world. Facebook is beginning to spread its tentacles far beyond their own platform by enabling website owners to exchange information about Facebook users and their preferences. Many tech bloggers and columnists have lauded this move as a first step toward better organizing the Web based on the people who are using it. Others are raising security and privacy concerns.

"The idea for such a reorganization has been around for a long time," states the article, How Facebook Could Organize the Internet, published on The Atlantic's website last week. "Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, years ago envisioned the next stage in the Web's evolution, calling it the Semantic Web. It would, he wrote, 'bring structure to the meaningful content of Web pages,' enabling computers to understand that content and how it relates to other sites and information across the Internet. Change has been slow because standards are hard to set and enforce, but Facebook's scale could accelerate the transformation."

Here's how this plays out...

About a month ago, you could "like" what people were saying and doing on Facebook and you could also "become a fan" of pages (which may have been created by individuals or brands). Facebook recently changed this, so now you can "like" individual pieces of content, brands, pages and groups. All of this information is displayed on your profile and can be seen by everyone connected to you.

At the F8 conference, Facebook announced that an individual's ability to "like" something is now going to extend all over the Web. So, if you like a movie at IMDB, you can "like" it right there on the IMDB site. If you like a restaurant on Yelp!, you can "like" it right there. Not only are you giving content throughout the Web your own personal thumb's up or down, but you're also able to discover which of your Facebook friends are on the site and what they like (or don't like).

This new platform from Facebook, called Open Graph, allows developers to exchange this information as well, so that they can create content around people's interests, and allows them to exchange this information between one another. This, in the end, sounds like the ultimate word-of-mouth marketing mixed in with an all-powerful recommendation engine based on an individual's friends and connections.

Facebook can (and will) make more money (lots of it).

Last week, I spoke at the Bazaarvoice Social Commerce Summit in Austin, Texas. The intersection of social media and e-commerce is one that concerns many online merchants. How much commerce versus how much loyalty and community building is the right mix? During a panel discussion that saw a handful of Digital Millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) talk about their media and shopping habits, it became abundantly clear that they live on their mobile devices and spend an active amount of time in online social networks. Pinny Gniwisch, co-founder of Montreal-based Ice.com, asked the panel if they would like to be able to shop directly in Facebook, to which the entire panel (made up of young men and women) sat up and unanimously said, "Yes!"

In February of this year, Web analytics firm, Compete, announced that Facebook surpassed Yahoo! to become the second most popular website after Google.

Now, as Facebook allows users to connect back to them while being practically anywhere on the Web, imagine what Facebook was versus what it is about to become.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

By Mitch Joel


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