Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Facebook Brings Back (Part of) Beacon, and No One Blinks

In 2007, Facebook unveiled a plan to let brands turn Facebook users’ online activities into ads. Cue uproar, and an eventual apology from Mark Zuckerberg.

Yesterday Facebook unveiled a plan to let brands turn Facebook users’ online activities into ads. If anyone is complaining, it’s news to me.

Easy enough to see why: There are some very big differences between Facebook’s ill-fated Beacon and Sponsored Stories, the site’s new ad unit.

For starters, Facebook unveiled yesterday’s news in the trade press, not in a high-profile, Apple-aping event. More important is that while the new ads can tell your friends what you’re doing outside of Facebook, they’re mainly focused, for now, on what you do on the site.

Most important: The ads are replicas of the updates your friends are already seeing in their Facebook newsfeeds. So while Starbucks doesn’t pay a cent when this shows up on on the center of your friends’ pages:

It can now pay up and place this on the right side of your pals’ pages, too.

Users can’t opt out of the ads, which seems like a red flag given Facebook’s history. But if a brand wants to shell out money to tell your friends something you’ve already told your friends, who cares? No one, apparently.

Still, recall what Zuckerberg was saying less than four years ago, when he was going to “build a new kind of ad system” based on “social actions” and “information that is shared between friends.” At the time, that sounded wildly ambitious, and maybe a bit creepy.

And look what Sponsored Stories does now. Marketers can purchase ads that tell your Facebook friends when you’ve “liked” something of theirs. Or posted on one of their Facebook pages. Or checked-in to one of their outposts or played with one of their apps.

And they can do it when you’re not on Facebook, too, via “likes” you make on sites that have tied up with the social network.

This is what Zuckerberg was talking about in 2007, right? He just needed time to get there. So did his users.

Remember that when Facebook rolled out Beacon, the site was a big deal, but not the biggest: A mere 50 million users, not 600 million. Many of those people were still trying to get a handle on how the site worked, and what they ought to do with it.

And recall that the newsfeed itself–more or less the core of today’s service–was still a relatively new idea too, introduced just a year earlier. (Another controversy, and another Zuckerberg apology.)

Now, I think, just about everyone who uses Facebook knows, more or less, what they’ve signed on for: A place that wants you to share as much of yourself, with as many people, as you can.

Letting advertisers help you share that much more? No big deal. This is isn’t 2007, you know.


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