Small Ideas

Finding the next big idea by exploring small ones – by Rishi Khaitan

Archive for the ‘facebook’ tag

Facebook Ads: “Likes and Interests”, Suggest Tool?

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For those of you that aren’t familiar, Facebook’s Ads platform allows advertisers to target ads towards users whose profiles include certain keywords.  Today, AllFacebook is reporting that facebook will now refer to this keyword targeting not as “keyword” targeting but as “likes and interests”.  While a subtle change, this, from a marketing perspective, may actually be pretty brilliant.  “Target ads to users who like the Boston Red Sox” sounds a lot sexier than “Target ads to users who have the words boston red sox somewhere in their profile information”.  Moreover, the “likes and interests” language is clearly distinct from the “keywords” language that just about every other ad platform on the Internet uses.  Furthermore, it’s a language that Google and the other top ad networks can’t speak that fluently.

However, what is most intriguing to me is if and when Facebook will be launching a likes and interests Suggest tool similar to that of Google’s Keyword Suggest Tool.  Assuming Facebook is tracking the necessary ad click data+metadata (which I’m all but sure they are given that they seem to track everything), such a tool would be a boon to all advertisers, but especially those (majority) advertisers who are unfamiliar with social advertising.

Written by Rishi Khaitan

March 8th, 2010 at 3:35 am

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Is Q&A/Polling the basis for the future of advertising?

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Have you ever received an ad that was so relevant to your needs and interests, that you were happy to see it? A Google AdWords ad maybe? Or maybe you saw a discount code for your favorite clothing store? My guess is at some point you have. In fact, a recent study in the UK revealed that 71% of young people surveyed would like to receive advertising messages targeted to their particular interests.

Advertising is everywhere we see. Our brains are trained to automatically ignore much of it. While some ads are so extremely unrelated to our interest that it catches our attention. That’s spam. Yet some minority of ads catch our attention because they’re so interesting as to be highly informative. In this case, the ad is a service to the consumer. Think of it like a continuum where the variable is relevancy.


So what if a publisher served only those ads that were very relevant to each consumer. The consumer is happy. The advertiser is happy because their message is reaching exactly those consumers who are likely to act on that message. Publishers are thrilled because they’re making money by very efficiently connecting advertisers with consumers. Win-Win-Win.

Of course, this “perfect” targeting is the holy grail. It doesn’t really exist in any sort of mass scale. But, what if I told you that a company in the UK is so good at doing this that they claim to generate enough ad-based revenue to pay for your cell phone & service? In fact, that company is Blyk. Blyk offers teenagers and young adults in the UK a phone, and service for free. The recipient agrees to receive occasional ads. About a year ago (the service was quite new back then), they claimed 29% average response rate to ads. How do they get such high response rates?

Well, in a sense, Blyk lets its customers control the ads they receive. Customers might receive texts along the lines of:

Are you a UFC fan? [*Y/*N]

XBox360 or PS3? [*X/*P]

Want to hear a sneak peak of the new Radiohead album? [*Y/*N]?

Essentially, Blyk polls the customer to learn about their preferences. They

1) Send a text with content that encourages a simple call to action (“Watch UFC?”)
2) Based on this primary data, they send an ad in the future (“Check out UFC 49 this weekend. $20 on PPV… Call now to order!”).

Blyk’s advertisers and customers are happy. Everybody wins, especially Blyk.

Let’s think about how this might work for a site like Facebook. On Facebook, users are already expressing their interests in a variety of areas. They do this not just statically on their profiles, but constantly via the other social interactions like fan pages, groups, status updates, wall posts, etc, etc.. Fan pages and groups are useful data points but mining user-created content is extremely challenging.

I think a Blyk-inspired system could work on Facebook. I’m curious to know the response rate of the existing Facebook Polls feature. If it’s even somewhat high, and since it’s in the feed I have a hunch it is, Facebook could very easily start to poll users for the purpose of collecting high quality data that makes sense to advertisers. Or, as is suggested in this Telegraph article today (the story is now being denied by Facebook PR), advertisers themselves could poll users via Facebook. Facebook wins two ways. First they earn revenue from the advertiser to run the poll. Secondly, Facebook can charge a very nice premium for enabling advertisers to then deliver ads to specific sets of users (based on their answers to prior polling).

If Facebook executes this well, this may actually improve the user experience. Instead of Facebook being increasingly cluttered with spammy ads, Facebook could serve fewer ads that are, referring back to our earlier continuum, so relevant to the user that the user is happy to see them. Moreover, from a revenue perspective, the rate they could charge for serving a single highly-targeted ad earns orders of magnitude more money than serving hundreds of garbage remnant inventory ads.

Sounds like a plan to me?? Opinions?

Written by Rishi

February 2nd, 2009 at 1:15 am

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Another Facebook App: Vouch For Me

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For a couple of years, I’ve had this recurring thought: “What if you could apply the PageRank concept of link popularity to reputation?” In other words, let’s say person A, a marketing guy, vouches for person J as being an awesome Java engineer. That endorsement, while it may well be true, would not mean nearly as much as if person B, an engineer himself who has 10 other engineers vouching for his Java engineering skills, vouches for person J’s Java skills. Well, imagine a giant graph with edges that represent such vouches. By analyzing the graph, one could find the best (essentially the node on the graph with the most incoming Java engineer vouches…again not just quantity of vouches but quality of vouches…sort of a weighted sum) Java engineer.

Well, as a sort of experiment, Paul and Nick were kind enough to help me whip up the Vouch For Me app on Facebook. Add it and start vouching for your friends and get vouches back.

Vouch For Me

Written by Rishi

February 8th, 2008 at 1:34 am

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Monetizing Facebook Apps With Lookery

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Lookery, an ad network for Facebook and other social networks with developer platforms, announced that, as part of their effort to rapidly grow their inventory, they are offering guaranteed minimum of 12.5 cents CPM for the next three months for an exclusive on the application’s traffic. 12.5 cents CPM at first glance seems awfully low but one must consider the alternatives.

Ad rates, in this case we’re talking in terms of CPM, generally correlate directly with context. Stronger context means a more focused audience. Targeted ads for this audience brings in high rates. For Facebook apps that have pages with real context, it’s likely that they can and should do much better than 12.5 cents. Depending on the content genre, it may take a bit more legwork on the part of the developers to find the right advertisers who will pay, but if the volume is there, it shouldn’t be too hard. However, for apps that have no real context (the majority of apps), 12.5 cents CPM may be about as good as they can get. Facebook itself sells its “flyer” ad space (the left column under the nav links) for not much more than this. In fact, I recently paid about 20-25 cents CPM for an ad and that was when I instructed Facebook to serve my ad only to a very precise demographic (matching only ~40k users out of the 50M+ Facebook userbase). Without such targeting, I would have gotten away with paying much less.

From my own experiences, I’ve found SocialMedia to be quite lucrative. SocialMedia advertisers, primarily developers who are buying installs for their own applications, pay 15 cents and upwards for a click. When SocialMedia first launched, when we published their ads prominently at the top of our canvas pages, we saw eCPM as high as $2 or so. Now it’s less, but still is above 50 cents eCPM. My hunch though is that applications which serve massive page views, particularly a large number of page views per user session, will see decreasing eCPM from SocialMedia. There’s only so many ads that each user is going to click in a session, no matter how many page views in length. Again, this is just a hunch though.

So, if you are one of the application developers that has a massively popular application which offers no meaningful context, then Lookery’s offer is probably pretty attractive. And this type of developer is exactly who Lookery wants in order to achieve their goal of adding a billion page views of inventory a month for the next few months.

Written by Rishi

February 1st, 2008 at 3:54 am

My Apple Life

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PRN (Paul, Rishi, Nick) just launched a new Facebook app called My Apple Life. It allows users to share the Apple products that they have and want on their Facebook profile. Also, users can find others that have the same products that they do and engage in discussions like “What’s the best waterproof case for my iPod Nano?” Check it out…

My Apple Life

Written by Rishi

January 27th, 2008 at 5:14 pm

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Too many Facebook friends? Organize them (or get a life)!

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It was rumored back in August that Facebook would be adding friend lists to the site. Many speculated about how exactly friend lists would work and how exactly it might spell the death of the Top Friends app by Slide. Today, four months later, the feature has launched. Were the predictions true? Here are some thoughts:

1) For now, friend lists are private and cannot be made public. Moreover, lists cannot be accessed by the API. Thus no RIP for Top Friends just yet. It’s possible users may be given the option to make lists public and API’s may be able to access lists in the future. For now, though, it would seem that Levchin and Co are okay – heck it wouldn’t surprise me if Slide and RockYou used their leverage to influence Facebook’s decision on this issue.

Facebook Friend Lists

2) Some other posts have implied that Facebook provides a news feed specifically for each list. That’s false. You cannot currently see a news feed for a specific friend list. You are able to see a list of most updated profiles and status updates for friends of each list though.

3) Anyone suggesting that this feature is a LinkedIn killer needs to do some deeper thinking. I’m not saying that Facebook doesn’t already provide much of the value (keeping track of contacts, people browsing/hunting, etc.) that LinkedIn does, but these private friend lists don’t add much incremental value in making Facebook a professional tool. Facebook already provides enough tools to search through your friends if you need to pinpoint a certain friend or a friend matching a certain (network, interest, etc.)

4) So what does this do? Adds more, finer edges to the social graph. My best bet is that these lists will be exposed via the API such that both Facebook and third-party app developers as well as advertisers (again more edges on the social graphs means more ways to discover behavioral and interest patterns between persons in the social graph) wil be able to take advantage.

5) Why did friend lists take so long to launch? It was four months ago that the API tool dropped a hint as to this functionality. Four months is an eternity in Facebook time. Unless I’m missing something, this feature – in it’s current state – would not have taken that long to develop. Hence, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more than meets the eye here. We’ll find out soon enough…

Written by Rishi

December 19th, 2007 at 2:55 pm

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Beacon, Privacy, blah blah. Nobody (except us tech geeks) care..

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Ever since Facebook launched their Beacon program, there’s been a non-stop attack on it from journalists, bloggers, and even advocacy organizations like Facebook has been accused of invading privacy so much so that some are actually describing the publishing of Mark Zuckerberg’s college application and personal journal entries by 02138 Magazine as Zuckerberg getting a taste of his own medicine.

The fact is, the Beacon is designed to be an opt-in feature for Facebook users. If a user does not want to publish an event him/her triggered on a third-party website, they need not do so. In other words, activity is only published to a user’s feed if that user approves. Moreover, if users are sure they never want to do so, they can permanently opt-out.

It turns out, though, that Facebook is being a bit sneaky though in how the Beacon system is implemented. According to Stefan Berteau at CA, even if a user on a third-party site – via a Beacon – declines to publish an event to their Facebook feed, information about the event is still sent over to Facebook. Whether they are doing something with this info is unknown. My guess is it is being recorded. Gathering as much information about what a user’s recent activity is may well help predict/define what their near-term future intentions are. Such info is critical for ad targeting.

What is distinct about this privacy blowup at Facebook compared to the News Feed privacy blowup back in September ’06 is that the Beacon is a much less visible feature. Beacons launched a month ago and a very small minority of users have actually seen it. Both because only a small percentage of Facebook users have used third-party websites that employ the beacon and because, as a result, few beacon-sourced news feed items have been created (and my guess is that even for those feed items that have been published, few users users viewing the feed clicked on it and realized it was an external link). As a result of this slow uptake, most users haven’t heard of the Beacons and those that do haven’t been personally affected by it. Those that have been prompted by a Beacon were pleased to see that it was opt-in: the user had full control.

The “spying” issue brought up by Stefan is simply not going to be important to the vast majority of users. Unless you’re a techie, you’re not even going to understand the technical details. More importantly, the truth is that most users have simply become used to the idea that companies are spying on them or, worse yet, simply do not care one iota. Heck, some percentage of users probably think such spying may be a good thing because it could mean that companies can offer them better service. Let’s not forget the insanely high number of people who have Google and Yahoo toolbars installed on their browser. The primary purpose of most browser toolbars and plugins is to track your browsing activity. Oh and don’t even get me started on the Doubleclick’s of the world. I cringe to think of how many tracking cookies from all the different ad networks that are sitting in my Firefox right now.

Ask a random sample of 10 your Facebook friends questions about privacy, beacons, tracking cookies, etc. The replies you’ll get back will be filled with ignorance and indifference. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but it’s a reality. This passive attitude towards personal privacy isn’t new either. Traditional companies have been tracking individual consumer behavior for decades and only until a person is directly inconvenienced or violated do they actually start to take interest in their privacy.

Perhaps Facebook’s mistake is not so much the Beacon program itself as their recent marketing blitz over SocialAds, which is all about whoring out user profile data to advertisers. It’s a concept that everyone new was coming but to a lot of people I’ve talked to, including myself, it does feel a bit like they’re exploiting the user. Yet, Google attaches ads to everything from your searches to your email and nobody cries foul. Maybe Facebook just needs to adopt a “Do No Evil” mantra to divert attention from their secret goal of beating out Google in becoming the Big Brother of the Web. =)

Written by Rishi

December 1st, 2007 at 3:04 am

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Reactions to the new “Stalkerbook”

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It came to my attention here and on TechCrunch a couple of hours ago that there has been a few changes on Facebook tonight. In addition to a minor makeover to the look of certain pages on the site, the two changes with the biggest potential impact are the News Feed and the Mini-Feed.

News Feed highlights what’s happening in your social circles on Facebook. It updates a personalized list of news stories throughout the day, so you’ll know when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again. Now, whenever you log in, you’ll get the latest headlines generated by the activity of your friends and social groups.

Mini-Feed is a new part of the profile that shows all the latest stuff someone has added on Facebook. Mini-Feed is similar, except that it centers around one person. Each person’s Mini-Feed shows what has changed recently in their profile and what content (notes, photos, etc.) they’ve added.

So basically a record of each action you perform on Facebook and each profile update you make is logged and listed both on your profile and is streamed to all the people in your network. Of course, the intent of this feature is to help keep your friends updated with happenings in your life. So this is a great feature right? Here are some reactions from Facebook users on a big message board called OT that I’m on:

“this is horrible. i might just kill my account now”
“this is complete bullshit.”
“god damn these are stalker tools at its finest”
“good thing i graduated so i don’t use this anymore.”
“the Newsfeed business is the worst thing they could’ve possibly done to the site”

and my favorite comment which humorously points out how the feed system can be manipulated…

“I just got into a relationship, got engaged, got complicated, got married and now I’m single”

The facelifted UI also got negative reactions mainly because people think it’s too cluttered. One guy likened the messy design to MySpace, another wishes for a return to the simple purity of Facebook of 3 years ago, and another was worried about getting epileptic seizures from the new layout. =)

One aspect I think people overlooked is that you can delete any item from your Mini Feed that you don’t want people who view your profile to be alerted about. Facebook needs to emphasize this point. Currently there’s a tiny blue ‘x’ to the right of each item in your Mini Feed and I think people are not noticing it. However it’s not clear if deleting an item from your Mini Feed also deletes it from being published to News Feeds of people in your network.

We all know that a big reason why social networks are big is because people enjoy seeing what’s going on in other people’s lives. But there’s a big difference between looking and stalking. The News Feed feature turns social networking into social stalking and that’s just creepy. I think Facebook really needs to re-evaluate how the system works. Facebook has recently caught criticism from users who feel like the company just keeps stuffing the site with unnecessary additions (i.e. workplace communities) that spoil what once was an authentic experience. One of the best comments in the discussion was one user’s crude, yet truthful, opinion of what Facebook once was and what it’s now becoming.

The beauty of Facebook is to find people in your classes to borrow a book or locate a local college slut for a hookup. It’s now marketed to those who play wall tag with each other and try to make it a more sophisticated MySpace.

If you have a Facebook account, check out the changes for yourself.

UPDATE: Fred Stutzman had some great comments on this topic. Click here.

UPDATE 2: Just saying thanks to Margaret Kane at CNET News, Jack Schofield at the Guardian in the UK and Oliver Ryan at for quoting this post of mine in their news coverage of this story.

UPDATE 3: A reader asked me to comment on what I thought Facebook could have done differently. Here is an excerpt from a comment that I made on Fred Stutzman’s blog:

I feel like the biggest mistake Facebook made was in the rollout of the feed system. They should have given users a heads-up about the feature in advance of the launch and explained to users the benefit of the feed system and the related privacy issues (and include steps on how to control privacy). From all the comments I’ve read, I think people are negative because they logged into Facebook this morning and saw that a detailed log of their actions on the site is now in the public domain.

If I put my cell phone # on my profile, that is my choice and I do so knowing that it will be publicly available. Facebook did not give users the choice to publish their action history via the News Feed. They just went ahead and did it. Sure, the user can go back and delete individual items from their feed but it’s not hard to see why tons of Facebook users are having knee-jerk reactions of anger due to privacy invasion feelings. Users felt like they’ve lost full control of their Facebook identity.

Written by Rishi

September 5th, 2006 at 3:55 am