by adam mathes
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Me: Hello. Web site: HI! A/S/L?

Would the web be better if every visit started out like that?

That’s the fundamental question behind Facebook’s launch of ‘Instant Personalization.’

More accurately, would the web be more profitable if Facebook just automated your response to that. All the time. Anytime anyone asked.

While investors in Facebook competitors nervously pull out their social networks and new APIs and see whose is bigger, and then put theirs away in shame and say it’s about how much it grows over time, they’re all just missing the point.

Facebook’s semantic web RDF-reborn-as-JSON centralized social web circle-jerk open graphing calculation is mostly a distraction.

The real possiblities - and by that I mean [cash|money|prizes] - is the demographics information, all the seemingly inane profile data, made available to other companies to personalize their site the second you show up.

Knowing who your “friends” are was cool in 2005 to “bootstrap” / spam them about the latest web site they didn’t want to use, but now it’s 2010 and knowing your age, sex, location, and musical tastes helps to sell sugar water more effectively so this time it matters.

My Yahoo Or Yours?

Like most things people talk incessantly about on the web, personalized web services are nothing new. The difference is back in the olden days web sites would have to convince you to give them personal information and that was something sort of scary!

A decade later, we’ve all already turned over that personal data to a social network in exchange for an ever increasing acquaintance counter and a greener fake farm.


And now Facebook has a great deal for you. They’re going to do you a favor by giving that data to web sites you visit. Without asking you.

Cookie Monster Also Likes Fruit

HTTP and the web were designed stateless. In non-computer-ese, this means the underlying way the web works has no idea of who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing. This is great when serving physics data at CERN but not for other applications.

I mean, how are you going to have a shopping cart without state? You can’t have an ecommerce revolution without shopping carts!

Some company that cared a lot about shoping carts realized that wasn’t enough and when they released their web browser in 1994 included support for cookies, which was some little technology they invented to add state to the web.

People freaked out, but why worry? Site A can not access cookies sent to your browser by Site B.

But, and here’s the evil genius part, what if Site A could read Site *F*B?

Start With The Really Evil Companies First, Then The Rest Will Seem Decent

I mean, how are you going to have a personalized site without instant access to personal data? You can’t have a revolution in personalized social commerce experiences without instant access to ever-present demographic targeting data!

And that’s just what Facebook has done, through some evil technical genius to subvert the structure of the web.

As of this writing, Facebook is helpfully providing your information without permission upon a visit to sites from Microsoft - the largest convicted monopolist in the software industry guilty of both antitrust violations and a criminal lack of taste, Yelp - the LiveJournal for depressed people with credit cards that allegedly runs a mafia style “service” business to extort owners with bad reviews, and Pandora - a company I don’t know anything about but I’m fairly certain you can’t trust anyone who works with the big record companies unless they’re Steve Albini.

My ground-breaking theory is: if you’re a giant company and run a web site, you can probably make more money if you know age, sex, location, and other data about your user instantly.

The corollary to this theory is: if you’re a giant company that is not one of the above mentioned three companies, you will therefore be willing to pay money to Facebook to get access.

Not to make a ridiculous sounding logical fallacy-filled slippery slope argument, but we’re literally only minutes away from this:

You: Can you recommend me a movie?

Netflix: What movies do you like? Don’t answer that, we already know, and we’re recommending you stop watching Fight Club so much, it appears to raise your blood pressure according to your doctor.

A company built on a foundation of non-verbal poking as flirting and repurposing innocent photos as masturbation fodder in the privacy of the sheltered elite college bubble is now poised to pawn off your carefully crafted profile to whatever web sites you visit.

But don’t worry - you’ll have so many better targeted recommendations of stuff to put in your virtual shopping cart you won’t even want to take the time to opt-out of the system and block each individual application.

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