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


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by David Wells
    Mitch Joel

    Great article as always Mitch,

    Facebook has ingenuously implemented the universal like button to pull in a lot more content into their own walls. Very similar to Twitter's recent @Anywhere move announced at SXSW.

    I think the move to a more semantic web is a step in the right direction but wonder how far they can take it until there is a big enough community backlash for the privacy issues.

    I'm on board with it, but the people wearing tinfoil hats probably not so much. =)

    Reply
  • Posted by Sarah Worsham
    Sarah Worsham

    I agree that the changes may allow Facebook to socialize the web in general. And that could be very powerful.

    The problem I have with the changes is that Facebook has basically given any site with the FB social plugin access to your personal information if you logged into Facebook and forgot to logout.

    For example, I went to Washington Post to read an article - a site I've never "liked" on Facebook or given any type of permission to access my profile - and there in the FB social plugin I could see an article that one of my friends had shared from the site. I supposedly already opted out of sharing my personalized information, but apparently having logged into Facebook placed a cookie on my computer that allowed sites using their plugin to access my information.

    Now information that sites have isn't just what you've chosen to share, it's also what your network has chosen to share. I think this free-for-all actually creates an environment that's less conducive to community and creating new relationships - you have to start second-guessing the sites and people you've allowed to connect to you. Does it inspire trust in a brand when they seem to know a lot about you personally and individually before you've even met? I'm not so sure....

    Reply
  • Posted by Doug Cowan
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Doug,

    An interesting article that I thought I'd share. Found on Twitter, redirected to MJ's blog, and then fwd'd directly to your email inbox.

    All done from my phone while taking the bus home.

    Imagine what people could be sharing (saying) about us!

    C

    Reply
  • Posted by Lorenzo
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, thanks for the article, it is indeed interesting to see how facebook will evolve.
    I have a few questions about this evolution myself and hope the other readers will help me answer/discuss these..

    1. The Like button can easily be "faked", pointing towards a different page, there are already bookmark applets to avoid this and give security over the "Like", but what is FB position about it?

    2. "Like" and "Become a Fan" had a clear meaning, now that they are merged, would you still "Like" as much as before, knowing this is now public?

    3. If we "like" something, does the page owner gain immediate access to all our information?

    4. When I call my bank, they ask me a few security questions:
    a. My mother maiden name;
    b. My birth date and hometown;
    c. A recent supermarket I visited; (Foursquare anyone?)
    All these questions can be answered by any of my "Friends" on FB and with applications being able to hold my data indefinitely, it creates important security issues. As a matter, if a friend uses a phishing application, all our details are our in the wild.

    5. With interests, occupation, education etc being automatically linked to relevant pages, this will force all institutions and businesses to create and control their pages. However, there is no reverse control (ie. verified employee), this could create serious problems (ie. all fan of Amazon will receive a "please confirm your order" spam message pointing to a fake page to enter credit card details from people on the page which are listed as Customer Care Manager, Shipping Officet, etc.)

    6. I really do not understand which content is created on Facebook other than status update and link sharing. Ok, pictures, but for example Mitch is not putting the articles as Notes (I assume because analytics, tracking, comments, anti-spam are not implemented and this will also prevent driving traffic to your other sites.)

    7. Following the point above, which tools exist, or will be created, to give Community Managers and similar the possibility to better understand their fans, or "Likers"?


    I think there is great potential for Facebook because of the very large user-base they have, however, I also think that 90% of the people I know will never ever think that they are now responsible for all their friends personal data, nor will understand the implication of their actions.

    As Stan Lee wrote for Spiderman, "With great power come great responsibilities" and it will be interesting to see if and how Facebook will manage it.

    Sorry for the long post!
    -Lorenzo

    Reply
  • Posted by jodi
    Mitch Joel

    I finally gave into friends urging me to join facebook and it's like a non-stop cocktail party. Everyone talking at once, conversations going everywhere, threads and snippets and links. It's chaotic, but it's also what seems to draw people.

    btw, a friend sent me your blog link and told me to buy your book. :)

    I think I will.

    Great post.

    Reply
  • Posted by Malcolm Omond
    Mitch Joel

    Great to read you articles, interesting to see your specific feedback on FB. I enjoyed reviewing the comments and honestly the privacy issues are important but we should all understand we control our Facebook.
    As somebody who is an Admin on a company page I also begin to feel that we are beginning to control Facebook as a medium. Put another way Facebook is changing the world and we the companies that choose to use it are changing Facebook.
    As such we also will manage our brand and the perception of our brand. If security and privacy affect my brand (and company), then my company will also "change" Facebook so it continues to enhance my brand. Failing that we will move on and find, (create) a tool that enhances brand and manages the concerns of the consumer about their privacy.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rokham Fard
    Mitch Joel

    I think this move is even bigger than what you described. It's simply beyond just the web world. This can easily be extended to locations in the physical world (I think facebook is already making moves in that arena). I like how they let you send a text msg to "like" a physical location.. that truly is a great move...

    Imagine restaurants having on the bottom of their bill say "Pay no tip, but instead send a text message to this number with a short review on the food you just had. It really can help our business grow"... how many people do you think would pick that over paying 15% tip.

    Anyway it seems like facebook is really trying to *become* the internet. After all a lot of the web's content is junk and it shouldn't take facebook long to find out all the valuable content on the net.

    Also a quick question, why is it that you still haven't incorporated the *like* button into your blog? I'm curious to know why you are hesitant yet.

    Thanks,

    Rokham

    Reply
    • Posted by Lori Johnson
      Mitch Joel

      Rockham, I read an article in Mashable this week that made a joke about Facebook trying to take over the world. It will be quite interesting to see where this all leads.

      BTW, I'm sure restaurant owners would love to have more reviews, but, I think the servers would be really mad if their tips are diverted. LOL!

      Reply
  • Posted by Melissa Barker
    Mitch Joel

    Great post, loaded with useful statistics about how Facebook has evolved. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    "For your reading pleasure"... you bet Mitch!

    Facebook is all the rage these days, and I don't see it going away anytime soon!


    I went to the F5 Expo in Vancouver recently and got a chance to see how Facebook Ads work. It is not about key words anymore with Facebook. It's about being able to very easily target people of a certain age, gender, neighborhood, school, that also "like" specific things. Talk about captive audience!
    Yes.. "With great power comes great responsibility." I see a lot of products being targeted specifically at younger audiences and that scares me a little bit. Potentially parents will never see the kinds of ads their children are subjected to while online because of this targeting.. unless there is something out there that I am not aware of on Facebook that allows parents to monitor all activity.

    Lorenzo... great post. One more thing that scares me is #4, because it is true. You really have to be careful who you allow to be your "friend" on Facebook and hope they log out of it after using it at an Internet Cafe.

    On the "like" indicator: I see the thumbs up/down in a lot of places (TedTalks for example) and I do see the value in it. It serves as a kind of incentive to post great comments, but I think there is more ownership to actually commenting. The like/unlike is a very passive form of participation without giving a reason as to why you like or unlike something... so I am still on the fence about that tool.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Posted by Libby Lucas
      Mitch Joel

      I agree with Anna "It's about being able to very easily target people of a certain age, gender, neighborhood, school, that also "like" specific things." They are kind of boiling everything down to clever clickable categories.

      I am a little concerned that we are reducing everything in our world to symantics and thoughtless clicks. Aren't we going backwards in time. Soon none of us will be writing or communicating in elegant ways. We will all just click "like" and make short grunts at each other.

      Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I see unique opportunity for marketers now to leverage even more traction out of quality content. Now. it can be shared among multitude of web sites.

    Marketers can extend their visibility and exposure to the "places" where people go instead of requiring people to come to them.

    If you have quality value add information, you are like a river. People will come to the river to "drink water". Now, river has more tributaries that can grow/shrink/expand based on where there is need for water.

    This is exciting.

    Reply
  • Posted by Tiffany
    Mitch Joel

    And, from the other direction, you're no longer allowed to list books, movies, interests, music, etc. that you like without linking to something on the outside. When I declined to "tie my page" to those of every book and movie and band I had listed, the personal interest sections of my profile simply disappeared. That was fine with me--they weren't especially thorough or up to date anyway--but the big impact of this move seems to be that we're no longer allowed to just say something or share a piece of information with friends...it has to be an endorsement with a link or it can't be posted. Understandable from FB's perspective, since obviously they're in this to make money, but it takes away a lot (most?) of the value of FB as anything but a marketing tool.

    Reply
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