25/11/10 - The cost of free
Yet another digital ad ecosystem?
Facebook’s adoption of a location-based check in service isn’t anything new - but it is probably the most mainstream launch of social location sharing to date. While services like Foursquare and Gowalla have been around for months, their volumes and usage are tiny compared to the mighty Facebook.
SO what does this mean for advertisers - and for Facebook members?
In the same way Google found a way of monetising its huge index via PPC ads, location-based check in services give advertisers a similarly unique new route through which to push their wares.
Many social media users however are still in the process of establishing their boundaries. For some, social media is a love-hate affair, like digital Marmite. Some users choose to remain undetectable, possibly engaging in ‘lurking’ activity, while others choose to opt for full disclosure and all that comes with it. In this press interview, Mark Zuckerberg talks openly about the level of sharing users choose to undertake (thanks to @scobleizer for the Cinch link and interview).
At many social events I’ve witnessed people jumping out of the way of cameras for fear of being ‘tagged’ – often on a social network they aren’t even a member of - in the coming days after the event .
Now, with the arrival of location-based check ins, there are more than photos to worry about: a user can also check in another person at the venue. Is this another piece of our privacy diminished for the sake of the ability to sell to us - or a genuinely useful tool? (To be fair, users can disable third-party check ins but this requires changing account privacy settings.)
This forms just a small part of the wider privacy debate. The ‘cost of free’, as some commentators are calling it, is often our privacy – a two-way relationship between the freeloading internet user and the service provider seeking to gather as much information as possible to make their ad network perform that bit better.
Users willing to sacrifice privacy for perks will merrily continue to share their online habits, hoping to swap a Facebook check in for a free burger or cheap drink from savvy brands.
Privacy issues aside, check-in services do raise the interesting scenario of fortuitous meet ups (“digital serendipity”, as Facebook calls it) and social scenarios previously unheard of. I’ve tweeted before on the train to London only to find one of my followers was on the same train - and yes, we did meet up!
Much in the same way as applying collaborative filtering to one’s music (Last.fm or Ping) or TV viewing habits (BBC iPlayer suggest), location check ins stand to evolve our social habits.
As for Facebook, the company’s latest announcement revealed it is soon to offer an email service allowing advertisers to present ads based on the content of the user’s email, much like Gmail is already doing. Of course this is Facebook, so unlike Gmail - that matches ads solely on keywords - Facebook will be able to match ads on keywords, demographic, ‘like’ habits (including ‘like’ impressions), check in locations and how much curry one ate two Sunday evenings ago (OK, so I made the last one up).
Facebook is collaborating closely with Microsoft so it seems the Steve Ballmer-backed assault on Google is now entering a critical stage.
Google, it just got that bit more crowded out there - but competition is a good thing. You ‘like’?
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