A Facebook Experiment

Patrick Ruffini has been writing about one of my favorite subjects, namely the emergence of Facebook as perhaps “the greatest microtargeting engine ever built.”

Facebook is on the verge of showing us a better way. Through the pro version of their Flyers self-serve advertising platform, they’ve given us a way to grab precise demographic counts on their membership, including ideology. These aren’t samples, but their entire universe. This was meant to be used for ad targeting, but it is also a powerful data mining tool.

I’m hoping to write at greater length about micro-mictotargeting in the near future, and in particular applications that extend well beyond politics. For now, let’s just say the implications are vast, not least for Facebook’s business model. Rumors are flying around about the company’s forthcoming advertising announcement. Valleywag went the furthest in wild-eyed speculation.

For Facebook, extending its advertising to other websites isn’t just a no-brainer; it’s technically trivial and a well-established practice in the market. And Facebook, with highly trustworthy information on users linked to their real identities on campus or in a workplace, could target ads more effectively, and more lucratively, than most other advertising networks.

So the information we’re voluntarily handing over may soon be deployed to generate fantastically sophisticated advertising, targeted to our consumption, our identity, and our aspirations as divined from the social graph, that follows us throughout our digital life. Pretty neat, or pretty horrifying depending on where you sit.

In the spirit of puzzling through this Brave New World (which, for the record, I think is mostly a good thing, though that “mostly” contains multitudes), I’ve decided to launch a tiny, modest advertising campaign for The American Scene. Specifically, I will spend a few bucks (we’re talking lunch money) on a Flyer that will be “targeted” to people who might enjoy reading The American Scene. And I’m basing this, of course, on crude stereotypes.

You may have noticed that we have no advertising on the site, which is a function of (a) strong aesthetic preference and (b) a small yet brainy audience. Suffice to say, this is more of an intellectual than a commercial undertaking. If anyone has thoughts as to what this Flyer should say, let me know.