Facebook's Future

Usually when I prognosticate about the far-flung future, I’m wrong. However, in the case of Facebook I think I will go out on a limb and say that the only thing that can save them from a very embarrassing spiral into nothingness is money. Cash. Duchets. That’s it. Not all the awesome people plucked from Google, not the huge numbers of pageviews they accrue and certainly not Mark Zuckerberg. Here’s what I mean:

Right now, Facebook is a novelty and has a novelty sheen to it. Right now, its not that annoying and the controls and UI and social navigation are pretty good. However, if it remains so, this is all it will be and its users will flow to the next hot new cool awesomr 2.0 beta thing that comes out. Facebook knows this. Hell, it did it to MySpace (well, with some help from MySpace itself).

So, the only thing that can ever take Facebook to that massive IPO is a revenue stream. And I’m talking a big one. Who’s revenue stream is that big? Microsoft. Oracle. GE. Siemens. Oh yeah, they’re not going to get into any of those games. But Google’s revenue stream looks pretty awesome, too. Why should Google get all that cash? I mean, really… all they do is let you find any information you want on the web in under 0.5 seconds. Who needs that? I’d rather be biting my friends and turning them into werewolves and zombies, to be quite honest. And Facebook just kicks ass for that.

Alas, that revenue stream has to come from somewhere and Facebook is looking to advertisers to shell out a bit more than they already do to take them there. Sure, Microsoft pitched in a bit and caused a huge shitstorm of press that has every idiot on the Web talking about how Facebook is worth $15 billion right now. But, anyone who actually knows anything knows that this isn’t true and both Facebook and Microsoft are the most aware of this fact (with Google right behind them in that race).

So that’s not the way to get money because that won’t last. And, as everyone knows, their banner ads as currently implemented are about as useful as syphllis. So, what to do? Well, I guess they have to roll their own ad network using their massive social graph data. Great idea! But how to do it? Seems like they’ve chosen just about the most devious way possible to accomplish this goal.

The problem with Facebook’s ad profile is twofold:

  • I don’t want everyone I am linked to knowing what I am buying, and
  • They’ve hidden the opt-out so well that this will eventually become “Facebook spam”

Why? Well, because maybe I don’t want everyone I am linked to on Facebook (shocker! not all of them are people I know really well!) to know everything I buy online. Imagine this scenario: you buy a book called “Inside American Terrorists” because it looks interesting. How do you think that will look to your coworkers checking out your profile? Or how about the “Bankruptcy for Dummies” book, Valtrex pills or a Swedish penis pump? Sound like purchases you want your entire 500+ friend network to know about? I think not.

The one great thing about Facebook right now is that there is no spam. None. Its not possible to get spam on Facebook right now because the platform itself functions as a sort of challenge/response system, allowing only the people you specifically accept to communicate with you. You can block and/or ignore anything that comes your way that you don’t like and you’ll never hear from it again. Not so with the Facebook Ad Network.

Facebook’s ad platform will allow each retailer/online business to put you through the whole subversive opt-out process again and again. There’s no way to globally opt-out, or better yet, to opt-in to the process in the first place and not have any ads show up at all. We already know that most people don’t understand that the word “sponsored” is synonomous with “advertisement” from the vast number of people who don’t realize that those links on the right-hand side of the search results are ads, so there’s no chance of just slapping that on each entry will keep anyone honest.

I for one believe that this could go one of two ways: Either nobody cares and Facebook makes a ton, or they annoy the shit out of their users and flame out quickly with many funny articles from Ted to help us through the pain. I’m thinking that the latter is more likely at this point.

My plan is to write a Firefox extension that will refuse to serve Facebook cookies unless the actual domain being visited is facebook.com (not just an iframe inside another domain’s page). This will defeat the Facebook Ad Network attempts to subvert my profile quite soundly. I will of course be opening this up to anyone who wants a taste for nothing, just as soon as I get some time to bang it out. More on that as it comes up.

Here’s hoping everyone just shuts up about Facebook because there’s just not that much there right now. Help me do something that I can’t do with IM or Twitter or Flickr and I’ll be singing your praises. Facebook: Show me you’ve got something of value other than my purchase history.