Recently I started to notice that in my Facebook News Feed adverts start to pop up in between photos of my friends' lovely babies and articles shared by my friends about various issues - from campaigning for the scrap of building the 4th nuclear plant plan in Taiwan to preservation of Bukit Brown in Singapore.
Adverts on Facebook are not new. Facebook has promised its users that it is free and will remain so forever. Like many other internet content (service) providers before it, it has to generate revenue from advertising to support its operation. Companies such as Facebook have gathered more data than ever about us and use them, backed with powerful analytics, so it claims, to extract advertising dollars from companies who wish to reach the 'targeted' customers.
From the perspective of companies which wish to reach out to their potential customers, instead of putting up adverts on expensive mass media such as TV or newspaper which reach an indiscriminate group of audience, based on the data Facebook gathered about us, it pushes adverts that are 'more likely' to be attractive to us. For example, people who have 'liked' baby photos, who have put up 'baby photos' or who have frequented pages relating to baby products or knowledges of raising children are more likely to be in need of formula milk than the general public. Having adverts on social media such as Facebook probably would not reach as big an audience as the newspaper of TV do, but the conversion of potential customer to real customer perhaps could be substantial higher (I wonder if there is any research done on this).
Generating revenue through adverts push to the 'right customers' using powerful analytics to provide free service to its users and helping companies to reach the 'targeted' potential customers sound like a really good deal for everyone. But how about the users of such services and those who are being 'targeted' as potential customers? Especially when a more invasive approach in pushing adverts through News Feed?
The extent to which this more invasive approach in pushing through adverts to everyone's News Feed would have on people's behaviour in using Facebook is still unknown. People might start manipulating on the News Feed they wish to receive by selecting stories from a specific group of people or pages instead of relying on Facebook's engine to pick the news for you. People might stop posting anything in order to avoid having too much data being gathered about them. It might also depend on how your friends react to it. If your friends stop posting updates, or eve more drastically, start quitting Facebook, it might stop to be an interesting social platform to be on. In its struggle to stay afloat and to keep its promise making it free for all, will Facebook be free forever? I guess it might be for as long as it lives. But will Facebook last forever?
One thing is for certain - nothing lasts forever.