TheirSpace

Terrence Russell published an excellent and candid article in the Wired Blog Network called “Facebook Rolls Out Highly Targeted Viral Ad System”. Here’s an excerpt:

The wait (and hype) is finally over. After weeks of speculation and red herrings, Facebook’s new ad system (imaginatively titled “Facebook Ads”), has been revealed. So, what is it? Put simply, it’s an ad system that allows businesses to track users’ activities on the web (and on Facebook) to deliver product referrals and targeted advertising. If you’ve ever wanted to use social networking to share extraneous information about your purchases and product endorsements, your time has come.

I sent him the below response recently as I’m interested in hearing his views on if the Social Networking public will accept this continued evolution of private blog-like network pages to public advertising platforms. I have conversations with designer and IA/Strategy friends quite frequently and, on the reverse side, discuss viral and non-traditional marketing opportunities with clients on almost a weekly basis (where much of emphasis is placed on blogs, Facebook, Linked In, Google Groups and other social networking ventures).

Dear Mr. Russell,I read your article, Facebook Rolls Out Highly Targeted Viral Ad System, last week and wanted to send you a note to let you know I enjoyed it. We’re often seeing social networking sites becoming great platforms for advertising as businesses are woven in. When MySpace enabled users to create band pages, I’d wondered if this was just the beginning of a movement to invade previously-addfree zones with new revenue opportunities. My design studio used to work with younger bands and first-time authors, but this work has dissipated as social networking sites created relatively cost-free alternatives for musicians and writers (undeterred by Billy Bragg’s protest) . Users who were fans of bands were hooked into street teams and events notices that were driven by social networking sites’ email notices.The trend took a huge upswing when MySpace, itself, sold its backgrounds and home page graphics to Fox movies and clients requested that we compliment movie, music and novel sites with MySpace pages for online communities. We recently finished a site for author Charles Bock for his first novel, Beautiful Children, where one of the characters in the book (a music junkie) got a MySpace band page. The MySpace page is responsible for much of the traffic that ends up at the book site, and I’m excited to learn that there are subtle traffic-building opportunities like this out there.

I’m under the impression, though, that this gravitation toward social networking sites for promotional opportunities is going to hit a ceiling. While it seems to have no limit of potential at this point, users may start to feel that MySpace may soon be TheirSpace, recognizing that all they are is, as you eloquently put it, “a shill.” Social Networking sites are hallowed ground. Users that have no interest in blogs or tumblrs use it to create an online version of themselves (the predecessor of Second Life’s avatar) where they can color, type and exist on screen. Their friends are their friends (their featured friends are their featured friends), their posts and images and videos are unique to them. They can even bastardize the MySpace or Friendster layout to reflect how indy or hip or trendy or ghetto they are in real life. But when the Google Text Ads give way to image ads, the images to flash, the flash to all-encompassing DHTML layered “pop-ups”, their individuality is obscured and their personality becomes the property of whomever is renting space on their page.

I may be completely wrong, but I feel that in order for social networking sites to retain their growth, advertisers have to continue to be subtle. I see you use GMail for your mail account and I’m assuming part of that reason is that it’s a mail program that, with technological bells and whistles, doesn’t detract from your purpose there. I bet you chose it over Hotmail because you can log-in without seeing a dozen ads, browse your mail without seeing a few more, and log-out without being brought to another dozen. If you did use Hotmail before, you’re thankful to only see a few small Google text ads and have no intention of going back.When Google creates their new almighty social networking site (not orkut, the new one) what is the chance that die-hard Facebook users will make the same decisions you made when you chose GMail?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Your reader,

Don

What do you guys think? Am I being paranoid or is this trend going to kill social networking? Do you agree that people will gravitate toward add-free initiatives like Google’s new SN site?

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