Is Facebook’s Timeline Just An Advertising Sellout?

Remember Facebook's explanation earlier this week about sponsored stories and other ads? The social network may have a lot more explaining to do if one unconfirmed report is true, and this time it involves the new timeline profile.

Remember Facebook’s explanation earlier this week about sponsored stories and other ads? The social network may have a lot more explaining to do if one unconfirmed report is true, and this time it involves the new timeline profile.

An unnamed former chief technology officer and current consultant told The New York Observer‘s Betabeat blog that while timeline is being pitched to users as a way to share highlights of their lives chronologically, the end goal is to benefit advertisers.

The consultant told Betabeat that Facebook’s GraphRank, which determines the ranking and placement of content on users’ news feeds, won’t necessarily display the newest content at the top, instead taking into account other metrics, including direct payment to the social network by advertisers. Either the writer or consultant misconstrue what sponsored stories are, or…. uh, oh!

Since GraphRank also relies on information about users, such as their tastes in books, music, television, and purchases, the fact that timeline encourages more sharing of information in general, and of this type in particular, could be helpful to advertisers looking to target users who would be the most likely to express interest in their products and services.

The consultant told Betabeat that Facebook has been pitching advertisers on the concept that the purpose behind timeline is to “reconceptualize” users based on their consumer preferences; the social network apparently boasts that its sponsored stories and premium sidebar ads are 90 percent accurate in terms of users they target, compared with the industry average of 35 percent.

A key point missing from Betabeat’s hyperbole: Facebook keeps about users anonymous when presenting it to advertisers. Timelines are simply aggregating more of this information, anonymously.

The accuracy of the consultant’s claims has yet to be verified, but did you really think timeline was launched out of the goodness of Facebook’s heart?