Search, Discovery, and Facebook

(Many of these ideas came out of a conversation I had with Patrick Koppula, one of the founders of iLike. So, thanks to him and his current team at Vadver, who will quite probably do something amazing.)

There’s a lot of buzz around the internet about whether Facebook is going to start an ad network to monetize its application platform. Lookery, SocialMedia, and a few others are certainly betting that there’s a market for such a network. In the view of many, the holy grail is of course an in-Facebook network which uses Facebook’s demographic data to target users. An advertiser could then say, “I want to serve my ads to 18-24 year-olds who like sports,” for example.

However, even that kind of ad network may not be the most valuable thing that can be accomplished with a universally available copy of the social graph. Offline, one of the most common ways we use the social graph is recommendations – we learn about new movies, music, and restaurants from our friends all the time, and we trust those recommendations all the more because they’ve come from people we know.

Plenty of companies, e.g., iLike and StumbleUpon, have already built their business around such “social discovery” mechanisms. Search works well if you know to some degree what you want, but that isn’t always the case — that’s why people channel flip, why there are shuffle buttons on iPods, and why you see people casually flipping through magazine pages on the bus. People don’t know what they want beforehand, but they’ll know it when they see it. The Facebook Platform presents an opportunity for third-party services to make many kinds of new social recommendations.

And many of these new discovery features will be integrated outside Facebook. Services like “What are my friends watching?” or “What are my friends listening to?” already exist, but almost always require you to build out a social network within their external site.

The Facebook Platform means my corner of the social graph is now available to anyone I want. Who will capitalize on what is possible with new kinds of social recommendations?