Logging In: Unlocking the Word Hoard

Wait until BT gets a hold of the writing renaissance

Once upon a time the Web was all about directory structures, blink tags and a highly memorable flame graphic. Web design evolved relatively swiftly, but great Web copy lagged far behind. The Web remained over-designed and underwritten well into 2004. Looking back on online marketing it's possible - and very sad - that Subservient Chicken may be the most iconic online execution thus far. Not exactly "Where's the Beef?" or "Bartles & Jaymes."

No one is complaining about a lack of verbiage strewn across the Web. The blogs, posts, comments and tweets seemingly never end. We are continually asked, "What are you thinking?" "What are you doing?" and whether we liked or disliked something, and it appears that most have opinions and time to spare.

Isn't it a little ironic that all this technological power is driving a renaissance of the written word? Texts are broadcast around the world and back on a second-by-second basis. A picture may still equal approximately 7.14 tweets, and video can be even more powerful, especially if it includes kittens, but words remain the quickest, and at times most intimate, and most frequent, mode of communication.

Driving this cyclone of verbiage are social nets and Twitter with all of their cousins. If Mark Zuckerberg's plan for monetizing Facebook relies on finding a way to monetize "connections," then he ultimately is placing a large bet on simple words. For Facebook's behavioral targeting program to elevate into something with powerful and compelling value, it's going to have to take into account a few more words than age, hometown and gender.

A scary idea: Facebook is reading, tracking, saving and ultimately profiling us based on the words we write. Technically, it's just not possible, right? We'd never allow it, right? Wrong on both counts.

The technology is a short, albeit not simple, leap from a keyword search and clearly within the reach of Zuckerberg's budget. Not only would this tool scan for brands and product names, it could scan for sports, celebrity names, interests, cocktails, political beliefs, travel destinations - whatever is written. This would create a Googlesque database and ad-serving engine.

Ads are served based on the assumption that I share an affinity, or at least tolerance, for those interests "friends" write about. For example, I may not love March Madness, but I'll fill out a bracket for the fun of it. Compare that to my antipathy toward Rachael Ray, a person whom has never been mentioned on my feed. Yet Facebook's current ad-targeting engine insists on serving me ads for Ray's Diet Plan on an hourly basis.

Facebook could execute this, but would it risk the wrath of its fan base? In mid-March it launched a new home page. There were a lot of complaints but, to the best of my knowledge, no drop-off in usage. Certainly none of my friends, some of who were quite unhappy, allowed it to slow their commenting, liking and posting activity.

As consumer input of search words fed the accuracy and depth of Google, so our connections, conversations and likes would feed the accuracy and value of Facebook's ad targeting capabilities. This would be the most thorough and effective monetization of connections possible. What other alternative monetization models could be driven by connections? Zuckerberg seems to be looking for a way to deliver roi that is uniquely Facebook: monetization based on connections.

So if this is Facebook's path to riches, then it is built on words - our words, comments, likes and notes on what we are doing today. A platform for marketing messages that responds to consumer needs on a minute-by-minute basis. This ups the ante on BT. Perhaps there is a method to Zuckerberg's madness. 

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