And so it begins in earnest. The Web has become the Social Web, and these days “social” translates almost literally into Facebook. Soon there will be few places on the InterWebs untouched by the Zuckerberg machine.
It really started back when Facebook began seeding third-party sites with “Recommend” buttons, most of which were later changed to the annoyingly simple-minded “Like” button. This week’s announcement of Facebook’s partnership with Bing is another big step towards the Facebookization of everything.
In principle it’s a fine concept: When you connect Facebook with Bing, your search results will also feature occasional recommendations from your Facebook friends. If, say, you’re searching for a good Indian restaurant in town, you might see that six of your foodie friends gave India Majal a big thumbs up. Helpful info, to be sure. Kind of like using Yelp, only in this case you know for certain whether these people are idiots (instead of just assuming they are).
In other words, instead of relying on the “wisdom of the crowd,” you’ll be relying (in part at least) on the wisdom of your crowd. That’s an improvement, right?
Well, yes and no.
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One problem is that, if you’re anything like me, your Facebook friends are anything but homogenous. In fact, many of them are anything but real friends.
My Facebook posse is an odd stew of actual friends I still speak to, old friends I never really see any more, former work colleagues, people with whom I have experienced a handful of uncomfortable elevator conversations, PR people I have worked with on various projects but couldn’t pick out of a police lineup, PR people I have not worked with who are just sucking up to me, more accomplished and better connected colleagues to whom I am sucking up, women I used to sleep with, women I want to sleep with, women who would not sleep with me in a million years but post really hot photos, old high school friends I miss, people I knew vaguely 30 years ago but now cling to me like we were best buds back in the day when I’m not sure we ever actually liked each other, my family, my kids, friends of my kids who are constantly chatting me for reasons I cannot fathom, a handful of stalkers, and (one hopes) strangers who are fans of my writing. There are also a few people I know solely via Facebook, because we have a friend in common, whom I really really like and hope to one day meet and/or borrow money from.
And that’s it. So these are the people who’ll be telling me what to eat, where to go, and what to do when I get there? Really?
Problem #2: Knowing what people like is helpful. Knowing what people don’t like – and why – is a whole lot better. But sadly, a universal Dislike button is not yet available (though there are some plug ins that will get you part of the way there). So if I search for a good Indian restaurant and six of my friends like India Majal, it would be even better to know that 12 of them hated it, and four of them got food poisoning. As it stands, if I search and see no recommendations, I am left to wonder if that’s because no one’s tried what I was searching for, or because they tried it and hated it. To my mind, that’s a fatal flaw.
Problem Trois: Adding “Likes” to search results may well help bring to the surface data that maybe would have better been left rotting in obscurity. Let me explain.
The beautiful thing about using Facebook is that it’s largely ephemeral. Things get posted and then quickly get buried. Both your brilliant bon mots and those posts you thought were brilliant after three and a half margaritas but just look boorish and lame in the harsh morning light disappear with equal alacrity. And so do your “Likes.” Or at least, they did. Not anymore.
So if you happened in a moment of tequila-induced weakness to click “Like” to Grown Men Who Wear Diapers, just because you thought it sounded amusing at the time, one of your not-so-friendish friends searching Bing for “adult incontinence” may well encounter this on his journey and start to wonder, just a bit, about you. Maybe not enough to call in the men in the white coats (or your boss) but still….
The implications of all of us buttering our preferences all over the InterWebs have yet to be fully teased out. But I think we’re about to learn a whole lot more about them.
ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan wants to make one thing clear: Even if he does like Men in Diapers, that doesn’t mean he wears them (yet). Visit his snarky humor site eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.