IN OTHER WORDS
On Wednesday, Microsoft bought a tiny share of the Web site Facebook that gave it an overall value of some $15 billion. Naturally, Microsoft regards its purchase as a victory over Google, which had been widely expected to win the bidding. It is a small victory, however, in a rapidly growing social universe and the world of online ad sales, which is dominated by Google.
Microsoft’s purchase does begin to answer an important question: Just how valuable is commercial access to a rapidly expanding, demographically pleasing community of people whose favourite hobby seems to be identifying themselves, their desires and their connections to other like-minded folk? To its users, Facebook is a way to keep up with friends, promulgate a relatively non-fictional online identity, do research, and waste fantastic amounts of time. But to advertisers, it is a universe of self-created focus groups.
On Facebook, we love to pretend that we are more than consumers, that we are as diverse and individual and idealistic as we say we are. The more sincere and honest we are about ourselves, the easier it is for advertisers to pin us down. You may find yourself looking at the cloud of friends that surrounds most Facebook users, but what’s even more interesting is the cloud of advertisers that surround them.