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For a long time I thought, as I believe many people still do, that ‘Liking’ posts or webpages (eg, Facebook‘s ‘Like’ button), and ‘checking-in’ at locations (eg Foursquare) were just for fun, an unnecessary novelty.
With the development of social discovery, and smarter algorithms used for advertising, it’s becoming apparent to me that there is in fact quite some value in ‘liking’ and ‘checking-in’.
Of course, many people will immediately shudder, raising privacy concerns, and concerns that it is time-consuming or frivolous (see also my post “Thoughts on privacy versus disclosure in today’s society“). These can be fair objections, but let’s investigate things a little further.
A) The upsides:
Advertising funds much of the web.
Without advertising, there’d be no Facebook. There’d be no Wikipedia. There’d be no Google. And without those, and perhaps some other similar cases, there’d likely not be much of a web at all.
So you’ll need to accept that many pages load with advertising around the content that you really came to visit. And if it exists, why not at least have advertising that is relevant to your interests? You never know, if it really is relevant, it actually might stop feeling like ‘advertising’ (as we know it) and start becoming more like a service (helping bring relevant, useful purchasing options to your attention, related to your interests, needs, activities).
We’re still a way off that, but we’re moving in that direction (see my article around Google’s knowledge of you, “Interest based ads – what you should know that Google knows about you!“).
‘Likes’ and ‘check-ins’ provide profiling information about the user, to help tailor/select the advertising that you receive.
ii) Social discovery
I recently wrote a post about social discovery, and some of the the new apps that have recently been released in this space (“Social Discovery“).
Many of those apps are built off the API (application programming interface) from Facebook or Foursquare, such that they are able to match users based on their interests (likes) and/or location. Without that information there’d be no way to bring people together that might have common interests.
So? Well, if you don’t buy the argument that there might be value in collaboration between like-minded people, then stop reading, but otherwise, you’ll likely agree that it makes sense to (i) be more open with your profile, and (ii) do more to build, and define your online profile.
And it’s not just for discovery of new people – with existing friends and followers, sharing interests can start discussion, and enhance the relationship.
Much of the point of social networks is the communication between “friends” and “followers” – people often (be)friend of follow because they hope that they’ll bring you interesting information; by liking webpages, or checking-in at locations (and leaving tips) you are creating a trail of interesting insights (Twitter‘s ‘retweets’ another great example of this). Such activity is often reciprocated.
It’s the serendipity that this brings that makes the web so wonderful.
Of course, one could argue that there is a loss of serendipity if search becomes too tailored, and content is shown based on your existing preferences but I believe serendipity is usually more effective when taking incremental steps towards new things, not wild steps into the unknown.
B) Other considerations:
- It’s happening already
Much of this has been happening for a long time already (relatively speaking). Users of store cards and loyalty cards already provide an incredible amount of information to their suppliers (eg, what brand of toilet paper you prefer, how much you use, how frequently you purchase, etc.) to [try to] improve their service to you.
Amazon knows everything about what you buy from/via them, your interests, what you consider buying, how long you consider things, the extent of your interest (whether you put in in your basket or not), what you actually buy, presents for friends (and therefore knowledge about those people too), etc. They use that information to make suggestions to you, as well as tailor their approach to customers.
At this point I’d like to refer back to my amazing customer care experience with Amazon (“An amazing (“amaz[on]ing”) customer service experience” ) – I still talk about it being a standard for others to aspire to, but I’m also fully aware that I am probably a relatively ‘good’ Amazon customer, and therefore it’s perhaps not such a surprise that they wanted to look after me.
Similarly, Facebook and Twitter try to make suggestions who you might want to be friends with, or follow next (based on your profile).
So it’s perhaps not entirely appropriate to privacy target concerns at Facebook, Google, etc. They’re doing what is natural given the technology that is becoming available to them, to improve and differentiate their service (you can also opt out if you want – stop using the web, or only visit sites that don’t involve Facebook, Google, etc.).
- It’s happening whether you like it or not (no pun intended!)
Ok, this really is a controversial point, but the lives that we now live make it difficult to completely ignore the internet, or stop people collecting information about us.
Every time you do something there is a likelihood that somehow or another your activity is being recorded (not necessarily video, or audio, but updating some computer database, and also not necessarily traceable back to you, but at the very least further helping build an overall picture of the population, which you are a part of).
- “But won’t it fill my inbox/stream/feed with a lot of ‘noise’?”
This is a great question (ie, every ‘Like’ could result in you getting more ‘news’ shown in your inbox/stream/feed), but there is an answer to this – set up “Lists”/”Groups” and use your filters/settings to define how you want news brought to you (with real-time ‘notifications’, email notifications, shown/hidden in your feed, etc.etc.). That way you’ll still only see what you want to see.
- Starting ‘liking’ more things, and ‘checking in’ more often.
- Take steps to define your filters/feeds/settings, to ensure that you are not drowned by the resulting increase in updates that you receive (prioritize/rank them, and remember to browse all feeds once in a while also).
- Be aware of privacy issues, and take action where you have specific concerns, but be bold also, and try to learn to develop in this new, more open way of sharing.