June 16th, 2007

Facebook: Sponsored Feed Items, Irrelevant Ads, Still Tailored For Students


After writing a long Talmudic discussion (as Jeff Jarvis called it) on whether sponsor posts are a legitimate ad unit, I was surprised to see Facebook, the Internet darling of the moment, had adopted the format:

Facebook Sponsored Feed Item

Facebook Sponsored Page

I suppose if Facebook can get away with inserting an ad into the very personal News Feed, I can get away with inserting one into my RSS feed.

The appearance of this sponsored feed item, perhaps not coincidentally, coincided with the appearance of display ads in my profile, which I had never seen before, although I know that Facebook certainly has advertising. What struck me was the questionable relevance of some of these ads, particularly given that I’m not in high school:

Facebook Ad 1

So I thought maybe Facebook doesn’t know enough about me. I checked whether I had entered my birthday, and I had — acne days are far behind me. Then I check out my personal profile information, and remembered why I hadn’t filled any of it out — it’s designed still for a high school or college student:

Facebook Personal Profile Fileds

Activities? Favorite quotes? Facebook may be open to everyone, and “adult” tech/media types may be swarming all over it to try to understand it better, but Facebook has done little that I can see to try to tailor itself to people who have graduated from college. As Dave Winer points out about Facebook:

why is their network so tone-deaf to the lives of adults? Maybe it’s because the kiddies don’t have a clue about business relationships, adult sexual relationships, or family relationships more specific than “In my family?” How long does it take to add some checkboxes to a dialog?

Indeed, the dialogue box that pops up when you confirm a friend doesn’t look like it’s been updated at all since Facebook opened up to non-students:

Facebook Friend How Do You Know

Despite the hype (which I’ve participated in), Facebook does have quite a ways to go before it can become anything other than a curiosity for the 22+ set — such restrictive categories and fields make Facebook feel like a tool for someone else.

But then, according to Fred Wilson’s ageism theory, since I’m over 30, I’m incapable of realizing just how perfect Facebook really is for me. Yeah, whatever. (By the way, Fred, I challenge you to raise a fund that does nothing but invest in companies run by people 25 and under.)

More interestingly, Facebook is getting compared to the AOL walled garden — not being able to check out the profiles of people I’m not friends with doesn’t feel very open web-like — even LinkedIn is more useful in that regard. I’m an outlier, certainly, but virtually every one of my Facebook friends has a blog, and I still find that old-fashioned social medium is far more useful and substantive way to keep up with them.

But really, what do I know. Maybe my 3-year-old daughter can explain it to me.

  • Scott...kudos for the post! Neil, Eric and Oliver...you each made some great points.! After browsing the comments though...I would like to make a remark on another aspect of Facebook and this post in particular...the ads.

    I've been on Facebook since shortly after it launched (I'm only a couple of years out of college). After several years, I have only clicked on *ONE* ad during that entire time (I've also polled several dozen friends on this and they say a lot of the same thing). Now while I do understand the "branding and reach" element of a company's advertising, I will mention that...just as with Scott's ad...I do get a lot of very not-so-relevant ads on my profile and I have a TON of data filled in on it.

    With that being said, I'm curious as to how advertising on Social Networks can improve. After all, the internet has boasted its advertising as offering RELEVANCE & ACCOUNTABILITY and, imo, has only really delivered on the latter of the 2 promises (even though it has done better on relevance than other mediums but it's still not all that relevant).

    Anyhow, just curious as to some thoughts on ways to improve online ads on social networks.


  • Don't get me wrong, I agree that Facebook will need to adjust itself as the average age of its userbase increases. After all, a lot of its current growth is among non-college-age people. However, I just don't think that the specific criticisms that you've offered are really that important.

    I'm curious what you think should be added to the "how do you know..." screen. Clearly, some of the options are targeted specifically to students, and some are useless ("We hooked up." - I've never seen that one used other than as a joke). Similarly, I don't see the personal details as being that college-centric, either.

    And believe me, my attitude is not of the good enough/suck it up nature. I just want to see some suggestions for solutions to the issue at hand.

  • Oliver,

    I think Facebook is an elegantly designed application and that Facebook Platform is a brilliant move.

    But that doesn't change the fact that Facebook needs to update its core applications.

    If web services took your "good enough"/suck it up attitude, they'd never take off. That's not how Facebook succeeded with its original student users. Great applications make everything effortless and don't force users to compromise.

  • I think a lot of these complaints are pretty much baseless. Remember that Facebook is a "social" network. If you're a social person, Facebook will be of value to you. I'm 27, and am seeing more and more people my age and older using Facebook, and I haven't heard any complaints from them.

    Regarding the "How do you know..." checkboxes, I think they cover a pretty wide variety of choices, and you can also enter specifics once you choose one of them.

    I also find it hard to believe that none of the boxes on the Personal page pertain to you. You don't watch movies or listen to music? Do thirty year olds not have favorite quotes?

    I'm sure you and the other Facebook naysayers have a somewhat valid point, but without offering any solutions, you just sound whiny.

  • leo

    "What struck me was the questionable relevance of some of these ads, particularly given that I’m not in high school"

    Apparently acne ads are all the rage...

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