Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Facebook's SocialAds: How they should work - but probably won't

The blogosphere is a-buzz with the rumour that Facebook's 'SocialAds' will be announced at New York's ad:tech conference on November 6.

This is the long-awaited out-google-adsensing proposal that makes Facebook worth that multi-billion price tag - allegedly.

Interesting that google is fighting back with its new OpenSocial to kick Facebook where it hurts.

Between them, you have to hope that someone is about to crack the 'how to make money out of social networks' conundrum.

There are plenty of guesses about how SocialAds might play: This from TechCrunch...

"It will be how Facebook will actually start to make real money—both through ads on its own site and on other sites through a new ad network... (presumably with its ad partner and new investor Microsoft). SocialAds will be an attempt to be like Google’s AdSense, except that it will allow ads to be targeted to Facebook members’ individual interests and profile data rather than the text on a given Web page. This targeting will be done by placing cookies on Facebook members’ browsers when they visit the social site, so that they can be identified later when they visit other sites hosting SocialAds."

I hope there is more to it than that. Adsense isn't just contextual - it's real time too. At the time I'm interested in content (as revealed by the fact I'm viewing it right now) about X, I get served ads about X.

If, as a result of knowing from my social comms that I'm interested in X, the net effect is the same. And if I'm served that ad long after I've left the content that relates to X, isn't it just in-my-face spam when it hurls itself at me when I'm viewing content on other un-related sites?

I'm guessing Facebook have worked that much out.

So what are the possibilities?

Isn’t the truly imaginative solution to try to work out what advertising/marketing looks like in a networked world?

Talk of ad networks, targeting to personal interest and data, it’s all very web2.0, but is it addressing the fundamentals of change here?

We have a generation of collaborators, with a network to collaborate on (the internet) and an economic infrastructure which makes out-sourcing, the means to produce, cheap and easy to find and do. The perfect storm that wikinomics refers to is upon us.

We accept that this has and will continue to disrupt the way content is created. It’s why social networks of the Facebook variety have succeeded while old-style broadcast sites stare wide-eyed at their Reed’s-Law-driven exponential growth.

And it’s dawning that the same disruption is happening to the way in which products and services are created (co-created). It's graphically illustrated in the information industry by Linux, for example.

And yet the predicted response from the cutting edge is, more ads, pretty much like the old ones, but better targeted to the individual's social data.

Haven’t we missed a (the) point here?

If a community is involved in the co-creation of the products and services it has decided it needs to call into existence, this has two key impacts.

  1. It has the potential to be a perfect fit. The people who’ve been involved in the co-creation of the product or service that results will love it and 'buy' it (that which we create we embrace, as Alan Moore likes to say). They will also rave about it – marketing it to other like-minded people, attracting more with the same passion/purpose to join their niche global community of collaborators.
  2. Doesn’t co-creation of this kind imply a perfect fit between supply and demand? What's the need for traditional ads. The community does its own marketing - and it's powerfully peer-to-peer and with all the ramped-up trust that implies.
Is this the end of capitalism? We only create what we need. So who needs someone else making something I don't need and then trying to sell it to me. Skills get matched to product production on a global scale - cheaply and more efficiently than ever before.

And if it is the end of the mass industrial model full stop, must it also be the end of advertising?

As I wrote once before: "How do you sell a mass produced one-size-fits-all product to people who want their content disaggregated and delivered to them exactly where they want it, when they want it, and honed to the interests they self-select and/or navigate to/discover through trusted communities?
"One answer might be to tailor the advert to the segmented user group. Take a look at for a vision of this.
"It's a brave attempt to solve a difficult problem. But I'm not comfortable with it. I wasn't sure why before. Now I think I am - it doesn't address the fundamental miss-match here - that we're trying to sell the same mass produced product to different people by effectively pretending (spinning that) it's a different product.
"It ain't, it can't be and it won't be until you let the community of shared interest take a stake in the creative process. "

However, the problem is, there are still things we need which we can't ALL participate in the creation of.

I need medicine. But I'm not passionate about taking part in making it. How do I get my medicine? I could contribute something to the process I suppose (can you make it taste nice? can you change the colour, I thinkthere's a need for a non-stain version etc etc). But can I contribute something of real value to the process of production (co-creation) of every good and service and public utility I'll ever need? Time would seem to be a barrier, if nothing else.

It feels like common sense to say no. So I'll still need to offer something in exchange for my medicine. Cash/Capital works pretty well as the representation of this. So capitalism gets to roll on.

And for the matching of supply to demand in those cases, we'll still need some form of connecting agency (marketing of some form or another). So if we can get ads working in a much more engaged way - more like content we want, like and trust - through the use of powerful social data analytics - then it has to be better than the interruptive models we see struggling all around us. Perhaps get some recommendation and rating from members of communities involved.

We see some giant leaps toward this with Blyk. Perhaps we'll see a further taste of it with SocialAds.

But wouldn’t it be wild if SocialAds really do what the name suggests: they simply act as the way in which you are recruited to join co-creating communities through a system of brilliantly executed, real time, taste and recommendation engines.

Now that, I would stand up and applaud.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?