From my charming, handsome Facebook profile, you can get a pretty solid idea of my consumer habits, or at least the habits of the consumer I want you to think I am (Do I secretly love Nicholas Sparks novels? Do I burn through fungal creams? I'll never te-- I mean NO! No. Of course not!). I spill all my beans -- what I do with my free time, what books I read, what CDs I dig on, what TV shows I'd TiVo ... if I had a TiVo ... or a television. And I've never been private about it. Through the MySpaces and the Friendsters -- even ten years ago on my HotWired.com member page (remember these?) -- all that choice information has always been there since the beginning.
And, lucky me, so has the University of Phoenix. Why, when I log on to Facebook in the year 2007, is glorious old UoP still hassling me to go get my GED or whatever learn-at-home hustle it's running, particularly when the actual, genuine university that graduated me way back when is right there on the page, pulsing in Carolina blue beneath my favorite hilarious and insightful quotes?
It's not that I resent marketing -- I'm well over the notion of selling out. Advertising's super-duper, it's splendid: the stuff makes The Office free, it makes the Times cheap, it makes my Google results quick, it makes my rent paid, it makes the world turn. I'm on board, I'm a team player -- like a dope, I'm giving market researchers more than enough to suss me out.
But marketers, ad people, Facebook -- please understand: I'm a very, very poor consumer, in every sense of the word. If you want to share in my pittance, you've got to do better than FindMyAdmirer.com. We've seen the reports of Facebook's targeted ad platform -- this is seriously the best you can do?
That these untargeted ads continue to linger has to be a concern for Microsoft, or Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO), or whomever's talking up these massive valuations of Facebook. After all, what bankable value does Facebook really have (what value do most web properties really have, BloggingStocks included) aside from being a platform to sell advertising?
You have to wonder if Facebook's open-source altruism has cost it in terms of market research. As far as advertisers are concerned, Facebook's chief draw is its ability to deliver ads according to demographic and interest. There's obviously some necessary give-and-take of propriety and innovation -- Facebook would not have gotten as popular as it has without many of these third-party applications (something Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) should take note of as concerns its iPhone). But these taste-declaring, vanity-coddling add-ons such as iLike, Virtual Bookshelf and my favorite, What's On My iPod?, by enhancing interaction and adding visual elements to consumer preferences, are completely usurping Facebook's position as the prime gatherer of consumer data on its own users. Does Facebook get a cut of these outside developers' user data? Surely it's not frozen out of the deal, left to crawl profiles on its own.
And why aren't marketing firms in on this open source action, if they're not already? Why aren't market research firms working at all hours, designing cutesy Facebook applications to cull the habits of this primo demographic? The alternatives are Facebook's polling opportunities, which seems like a sucker move; aside from when it really mattered, when was the last time you bothered to vote in a web poll (Please cast your vote below! Just kidding). Advertisers can also post items in users' "News Feeds," a stealthy move that minimizes intrusion on Facebook users, unfortunately along with minimizing impression of the advertisement.
If this is the best Facebook can do, it should take Microsoft's money. Can Microsoft do any worse?