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Facebook's 10th: Can User Experience & Advertising Bliss Co-Exist?

Think about your Facebook page for a minute. You probably list your birthday, your relationship status, your current job, recent books you’ve read, bands that you like, where you live and where you went to college. Add TV shows you watch, add languages you speak, add life events to your timeline. Your entire life’s story can be mapped out in one place - and marketers (plus Facebook itself) would prefer if it were.

Contrary to what is probably popular opinion, all this information you’re sharing isn’t for your friends’ and prospective friends’ benefit. The guy you know from sophomore year algebra will probably never check out what sports teams you like. But marketers will.

All this personal data we willingly upload is a gold mine of information that Facebook can use strategically to market and tailor content to exactly the right demographics. It’s ingenious, and Facebook is incredibly smart about the way they use (and sell) information.

But it’s also hazardous to the experience.

In its infancy, Facebook was a closed community of connected individuals. First, it was just for students at Harvard. Then you could join if you were a college student in Boston. Then you simply needed a .edu email address. Everyone using the platform had something in common, a reason to want to connect with each other.

Ten years in, Facebook is no longer a focused, tight-knit subset of the population. It’s the whole population, digitized and ready to be data mined. This is great for marketers: the network can serve up an incredibly fine slice of users, and Facebook is plenty willing to accommodate the advertisers who want to target them. We’re seeing more ads than ever, both in sidebars and on our newsfeeds, and it’s only a matter of time before auto-play video is shifted from friends’ videos to brands and advertisers.

Maybe this is the price we pay for a “free” platform in the digital age. It’s our “rent” to keep up residence in these online spaces. But as Facebook gives brands more of what they want, it risks disrupting the experience, driving away the users that provide all that data in the first place. It’s a fine balance to strike, but it’s in Facebook’s best interest—it’s in any social platform’s best interest—to strike it.

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