Facebook: A Modest Proposal

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook jubilantly announced that the “next 100 years of advertising are here” early this month. Maybe he meant in internet time, since the next century of advertising didn’t even make it to next month.

Facebook’s Beacon platform makes sense in theory. Earlier this year, Jeremiah Owyang pulls research out of the Forrester hat indicating trusted peers are the biggest influencers on purchasing decisions.

(courtesy of Jeremiah Owyang)

I figured Facebook was in trouble when the rowdy UK rags started using headliners like “I’m in Privacy Trouble.. Bitch“. The problem is Beacon’s advertising capabilities are opt-in by default, which raised eyebrows almost immediately. Since most users weren’t aware of a need to opt-out, mayhem and hilarity(for me) ensued as described by Charlene Li of Forrester. This is classic, edgy Facebook – Mark Zuckerberg’s business card reads “I’m CEO .. Bitch”. Not a controversy-phobic bunch here, but they’ll need to fix this quick or others will.

So to figure out how to fix it, Zuckerberg et al need to understand the ramifications of what’s happening here. Let’s begin with unintended, walking billboard Charlene Li. She buys a book on overstock.com, and later logs into Facebook to this lovely surprise:

(courtesy of Cherlene Li)

Now as far as most people are concerned, a coffee table is benign enough. However, imagine if a Facebook user buys a book called “Coping with Herpes for Dummies”. Now that would be a fun conversation starter.

A number of blogs have begun conversations regarding privacy issues. Since those conversations have been initiated, I want to initiate the conversation about solutions. Fortunately, the fix seems pretty easy enough, as the mechanisms are already in place to properly manage this mess. Here’s how:

1. Stop the bleeding. Shut down Beacon until Facebook can retool Beacon.

2. Shut down vendor side notification. Allowing vendors to provide users with a dialog box allowing them to share a purchase is not the best control environment for Facebook. It only takes one cheater or glitch to break the system when you have a user base who will wail on Facebook via the blogosphere. Said another way, if Facebook has the responsibility to maintain users’ privacy, outsourcing their control environment places them in a compromised position by design. Vulnerability by design makes no sense.

3. Use the existing authorization objects. Anytime a user adds an application, Facebook prompts the user to authenticate the application. A plausible extension of that functionality may be to allow users to roll up purchases made at participating advertising partners into a queue. Users can then “authorize” the purchase to display it on their profile, or “ignore” it and it vanishes into the ether. There’s a number of methods of rolling this into the user interface, from finesse methods like using notifications allowing users to casually add when ready, to battering ram methods like log-in dialog screens. My own suggestion to Mark and gang would be to use notification mechanisms, which are unobtrusive yet are clearly visible on users’ home screens.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you be willing to click on notifications and authorize support for advertisers you’ve purchased from as part of the social contract with Facebook? If not, how would you propose Mark “I’m CEO .. Bitch” Zuckerberg solve it?

Update 10:44AM PST: The New York Times has an interesting article on the evolution of Beacon here. (Thanks again Jeremiah).

This entry was published on November 30, 2007 at 4:08 AM. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Facebook: A Modest Proposal

  1. Great analysis, much of what you suggested has been done as of last night! It will be interesting to see what happens next.

    There’s plenty of time for FB to figure out how to monetize –without jeapordizing user experiences.

  2. Thanks for coming by Jeremiah, your input is always appreciated. Good to hear they’ve been responsive, and indeed a little Microsoft money buys then alot of time.

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