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Facebook apologizes

December 6, 2007

On his blog, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg, took the rap for beacon.

“About a month ago, we released a new feature called Beacon to try to help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web. We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. While I am disappointed with our mistakes, we appreciate all the feedback we have received from our users. I’d like to discuss what we have learned and how we have improved Beacon.”

In my opinion, there was an element of piling on in the coverage of Facebook’s new advertising plan. Part of it was because the CEO is 23. Part of this is a reflection of just how big-time Facebook really is.

But behind the fights, and the smackdowns is the notion that he’s trying to do something that marketing people spend our careers trying to do: get relevant information about brands in-front of people who might find the information relevant.

He went on in his apology:

When we first thought of Beacon, our goal was to build a simple product to let people share information across sites with their friends. It had to be lightweight so it wouldn’t get in people’s way as they browsed the web, but also clear enough so people would be able to easily control what they shared. We were excited about Beacon because we believe a lot of information people want to share isn’t on Facebook, and if we found the right balance, Beacon would give people an easy and controlled way to share more of that information with their friends.

Empasis mine. Because in this case, information means shopping behavior. When the internet knows who you are, what you do, who your friends are, and what they do, it goes from being random to being relevant. Along the way, it might get a little creepy and over the top, but it will also give us things we’re interested in, perhaps when we’re interested in them. And for a deal.

If all of my Facebook friends knew I just bought a pair of jeans at the GAP, they could buy me a matching shirt as a present. If they knew I just got my hands on a Wii, they could buy me games. You can see the value.

Admittedly, this is new. Therefore, there’s a much finer line between creepy and utility. Facebook is working out that line. And as they do, it will help us traditional marketers. Because we’re doing the same thing. We try to find out all the time about what people are buying, and why they bought it, so that we can craft our messages to encourage more of the same.

Finally then:

Last week we changed Beacon to be an opt-in system, and today we’re releasing a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely. You can find it here. If you select that you don’t want to share some Beacon actions or if you turn off Beacon, then Facebook won’t store those actions even when partners send them to Facebook.

This will most likely suffice as an apology. The big test will be making beacon be the thing that really adds utility.

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