FriendShuffle: social graph marketing 101

A few days ago, FriendShuffle launched a pure play based on the Facebook Like button (thanks to ReadWriteWeb for bringing them to my attention).   The potential for adding and, natch, extracting value around the Facebook Like button and the Open Graph Protocol is immense.  FriendShuffle are playing in a sandbox that has buried treasure in its business model.  Though, like all sandboxes, it probably has other things in it as well.

ReadWriteWeb’s take on FriendShuffle’s is that it’s  ‘StumbleUpon for Facebook’.  Fair enough, qua elevator pitch.  What you get when you first let Friendshuffle into your Facebook life is this: access to a slide show that you can flick through to see web content that your friends have recently liked.   It couldn’t be simpler.  But because it is visually rich, it’s more enticing (though clearly less diverse, in a single page) than the rather bland-looking list of teaser headlines and thumbnails that I see in my Facebook News Stream.  

Friendshuffle seems to me to be a moderately nifty way of discovering stuff I might be interested in, but might not otherwise find it easy to find.  It seem to get served up pretty niftily, too, so I can do a quick flick, and immediately bathe myself in some some non-random pre-approved visually rich interstitial surf.   As someone who enjoys the odd surfing break, this has a certain appeal.  

I also have the ability to Facebook-like any content I get served, which, at least in theory, could enable FriendShuffle to do some learning about what it’s doing.  

So… where’s the money?  Advertising is, clearly, one answer.  (I’m not sure -yet - if there are others.)  As I shuffled around, I was presented not only with the content my friends had liked, but with ads, some associated with the friend-liked content I was looking at, and some associated with my browsing or search history. 

Specifically, I had yet another opportunity to buy pix of my niece’s new baby via Shutterfly.    (Yup, the new baby is cute.  As if you would doubt it…;-)  The ad was even customised with my niece’s name.  Nice touch.  I’m not sure how, as an advertiser, I would buy this kind of ad slot, at least using Facebook’s off-the-peg ad-buying form.   But perhaps the ad I saw on FriendsShuffle wasn’t in any way related to Facebook, where I’d first seen the Shutterfly niece’ content.  Or perhaps it was Facebook ad-content, and FriendShuffle was just offering itself to me as a conduit for the next bite at the cherry.   In the hall of mirrors that is internet ad serving, who knows? 

After that, things got even more off-road, value-chain-wise.  When looking at Friendshuffle, I saw ads associated with my non-Facebook Web browsing/search history.   Specifically, I was tempted by yet another opportunity to fly to Canada.   Off-Facebook,  I am also being courted by flights to Canada,  too, as well as by some rather handsome dishwashers.   As of yet, the handsome dishwashers haven’t followed me to FriendShuffle.   (Or to my kitchen.)  But Friendshuffle is bringing together two worlds here – my Facebook world, and my browsing/search  history.

So, FriendShuffle offers a kind of ad context mashup, which takes into account contextual commercial aspects of the both content being showcased, and the viewer’s lifestream as revealed by non-Facebook browsing (and possibly searching).  This gives advertisers an extra opportunity to ‘impress’ me with extra relevance.   For me, it offers me a remix of non-ad content that would potentially be available via my Facebook News stream, if Facebook’s stream selection heuristics chose to distribute it to me.   Which they don’t.   But they could – if they wanted to.

Facebook could imitate Friendshuffle’s primary content in a snap – if it wanted to.   Their very real need to keep it simple restrains their hand, but they could do it.    To me, Friendshuffle’s big differentiator is in its ability to combine Facebook friend’s content and off-Facebook ads.   Facebook could do this, too – if it wanted to.  So Friendshuffle’s positioning is interesting, but it seems rather a nervous sort of place to be, given the number of giants who could roll on you in their sleep.

Andrew Bosworth’s recent comments seem uncannily relevant.  He’s the Director of Engineering at Facebook and the guy who built NewsFeed on Facebook.  In a post which is interesting for other reasons, too, he says: 

I’ve spent a lot of time…developing new products and I find my goal is just to get them close enough to good that we can get there by iterating quickly after launch.

I suspect we haven’t heard the last word yet - from anyone.

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