Years ago Facebook made a wildly successful data grab by putting About details at the top of the profile. Now with its Timeline redesign‘s “Suggested” sections, Facebook could fill out Graph Search by making it easy to select and show off where you’ve been, what you Like, and what you’ve watched, read, and listened to. And Facebook does more with that data than you might expect.
The year was 2010 and Facebook was in the dark. Hundreds of millions of people had profiles but didn’t fill out their About section with their hometown, current city, relationship status, current employer, education history, or spoken languages. These characteristics help define people’s identities. The data could also be used to personalize content feeds and target ads, if Facebook could just get us to volunteer it.
So Facebook redesigned the profile in December 2010 to start displaying this info front and center. If you didn’t fill it out, you were greeted with incomplete prompts every time you visited your profile. And if the info was out of date, friends would probably remind you that you lived in a different city than you said. Over just a few days, huge swaths of Facebook’s users keyed in this crucial information. It’s secretly one of Facebook’s most successful moves ever. It simultaneously helped people express themselves and see better content, while turning Facebook into one of the world’s most accurate ad targeters.
Today, Facebook is going after another critical data set — what you’ve done. The biggest problem with Graph Search, its new internal search feature, may be that Facebook’s information on what we care about is stale and shallow. Many people haven’t accurately mapped their real-world interests to Facebook Likes. Those who have probably haven’t kept that map current by pruning things they’ve fallen out of love with and adding their recent finds. If you Graph Search for “Music my friends Like,” you may be getting a better impression of their tastes from a few years ago.
Last year Facebook’s Open Graph platform added a new dimension to interest sharing. It let you actually consume media on third-party apps that would share that data back to Facebook. Data about what you listened to on Spotify, watched on Netflix, and read on Goodreads started flowing in. But Facebook was missing both what you had already consumed before Open Graph launched, and what you wanted to experience in the future.
Facebook’s redesigned About page and its new “Suggested” sections let you enter this info with one click. When you scroll down your About page, in each of the Music, Movies, TV Shows, and Books sections there’s a set of suggestions that let you instantly say you have listened to/watched/read something or want to. The suggestions are personalized based on what else you’ve Liked and consumed, plus your identity and social graph: Where And What You Like
Facebook’s also adapted two of its other powerful data-grabbing tools into the About page. Formerly buried in the Timeline app tiles, the Places Map on the About page lets users rapidly geo-tag old photos and updates. The Likes section of the About Page offers suggestions of things to subscribe to, like a condensed version of the Facebook Pages Browser.
Confirm a few of Facebook’s recommendations with a couple of clicks, and it suddenly knows more about what to show you. Tag some old photos and Facebook gets a better idea of where you want to see posts from, and what local businesses may be relevant to you. Add a few Likes, and Facebook can fill your feeds with updates about what you care about.
Then Facebook can use this info to improve Graph Search results for friends. It can say what music you’re into, what books a friend should pick up, or where the best nearby sushi restaurant is. About page suggestions lend depth and recency to fix the Graph Search’s shallow, stale data.
Oh, and then there are ads.
One of Facebook’s least understood ad-targeting methods is called “Action Spec Targeting”. It lets businesses choose to reach you because of what you’ve done, not just what you Like. You may have Liked Lady Gaga years ago, but if you listen to her on Spotify, Facebook knows you really care about her. Then thanks to Action Spec Targeting, Facebook could help advertisers show you ads about Lady Gaga concert tickets or merchandise.
While this process is still a bit clumsy for advertisers, some adtech partners like Ampush tell me they’re getting great results from Action Spec Targeting. The About page redesign will give them even more data to pinpoint potential customers with. This aids Graph Search, but also Facebook’s new Nearby feature that competes with Yelp and Foursquare.
Finally, Facebook has a big new revenue opportunity with About page suggestions. Facebook could let businesses pay to insert “Sponsored Suggestions” into the recommendations of what people should say they’ve consumed, want to experience, or Like. Some will say this paid, inorganic data pollutes Graph Search’s results, but seriously, you don’t think Facebook is keeping track of which Likes are earned and which are bought? It knows to mute the impact of paid Likes and activity.
Facebook is filled with news feeds and ads. Decry its tactics all you want, but you’re either seeing relevant content and ads or stuff that’s more intrusive. Either way, you’re seeing them, so they might as well be personalized accurately. This is one Trojan horse worth opening the gate for, even if we know Facebook’s intention.
[Image Credit: Independent]