Clarifying My Tweet, Plus Five Things I Want From Facebook

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 7.33.45 AMEarlier today, I wrote kind of a mean tweet about Facebook. In retrospect, it wasn’t fair and a bit over the top — I got up at 6am and had a huge coffee and wasn’t careful with my words. Anyway, my tone obscured the meat of my argument, which is that my observation of Facebook’s “in-stream” ads on the web were really bad, as in, really irrelevant to me. See the picture above. The problem for me is that serving me ads based on my friends’ “Likes” is problematic, even for the best algorithms, because those signals are either stale, not tuned well, not dynamic, and not implicit. Yes, I know the Open Graph was going to help solve this, but with things like PRISM, SnapChat, and mobile devices which unbundle every piece of Facebook, I’m not sure that promise will be fulfilled.

In a nutshell, Facebook excites me because it’s relevant — to me. I’m on it every day. I converse with friends all the time. I enjoy it. I want Facebook to be really good. I don’t mind getting ads on Facebook. In fact, I want to know what products and places and things my friends truly like. That carries weight with me. On the right-rail in Facebook, those ads often make sense because I’m sure Facebook is tracking other pages I visit. Fine by me. What I’m talking about are the big sponsored stories and other posts that appear larger in my feed or as roosters — they’re completely irrelevant, largely because Facebook’s algorithm probably gives too much weight to my friends explicit “Likes.” Some have pointed out that Facebook’s ads are tuned to maximize revenue — which is fine, I get that — but I’ve yet to been served an ad that is interesting. Maybe I’m an outlier. I guess it comes down to revenues versus relevance. Some worship all of Facebook’s data-driven decision-making and want the algorithms to generate the highest revenue based on clicks, while others (like me) want the ads to be more relevant, because at its core, Facebook is about me — it’s all of my relevance rolled into one network. Anyway, I thought I’d explain my rationale in a more collegial manner than before. Thanks for reading.

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P.S. I’ve been thinking about what I’d like Facebook to build, products that would be useful to me. I realize Facebook has their own plan. But, hey, they’re in more of a pickle than I am….Here is my wishlist:

  1. UPDATE * * Gifting (Physical Goods): I just became a dad. I’m usually the one to keep in good touch with people, but forget birthdays. A lot of people have asked me for my physical address to send a gift. I’ve done the same. I’d love for this to happen through Facebook. I realize I can send // My friend just pointed out that Facebook already has physical gifts. I had no clue. See here. Perhaps Karma integration. This great, I hope it expands!
  2. Recommendations: If some of my friends have been to a restaurant or other place, even just talking about it, I’d love for Facebook to grab that implicit data (just like Google reads my emails) and serve both ads and recommendations to me. Yes, show me that five of my friends went to the new beer garden in Mountain View. Yes, please. That’s what I want.
  3. One-Click Purchase Outside Facebook.com: I order a bunch of things online, just like everyone else. I’d love to just hit a FB-branded “Buy” button and have it automatically know my credit card, address, identity, etc.
  4. Photo Prints: Again, being a new dad means a lot of folks want physical pictures. I’ve already used a service to upload and send them. This is the core of Facebook — photos — and I know families would be all over the auto-sharing in real objects, making books, etc. It’s simple stuff but constantly reinforces the brand in the real world.
  5. Politics: This is the big one. I’ve always felt U.S. politics will only change when people can vote from their mobile devices. In order for that to happen, laws need to change — FB has power. Second, our identities need to be tied to our phones and verified. Facebook can do this. Combine these items and the resultant mix could be potent, both politically and financially. Social networks have already help citizens in other countries organize, and I see no reason why Facebook couldn’t have that power in the U.S.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus