Facebook as the New AOL


Facebook as the New AOL: Facebook is busy building a parallel Internet, a private piece of real estate where it sets the rules and selectively doles out access to its 650 million users. Witness word that AOL is approaching publishers to create “Facebook editions.” The idea is news publishers will have Facebook-optimized publications that will live on the Facebook platform. We’ve seen this movie before. It was AOL Keywords. Facebook has basically updated the keyword strategy with brand pages. Brands and publishers clamored to secure an AOL Keyword shortcut with the similar rationale that it would gain access to a huge pile of users. For Facebook, this makes complete sense. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has regularly predicted that other industries would follow the lead of gaming and become reinvented atop Facebook. That, of course, will leave those industries, like social gaming giant Zynga, somewhat behold to Facebook. Brands and publishers should be wary of any entity acting as intermediary between them and their customers.

Why Targeting Isn’t Everything: The online advertising world has a fetish for targeting. The notion is advertising would be far more useful to consumers if only it was better targeted. This is probably true, but it misses the larger point. The NASA-level science going into targeting isn’t worth much if what’s being delivered is still terrible. And most Web advertising continues to be terrible. Yet again and again, from DSP mania to Adkeeper, the industry falls back on more technology as the answer. Malcolm Gladwell addressed the larger issue of our overreliance on technology, telling the story of a vaunted U.S. military military bombsight that promised to drop a bomb into a pickle barrell. It didn’t work out so hot in real-world conditions. It’s worth wondering whether online advertising needs to rethink targeting as the answer to everything.

Feeling Lucky: Google now makes billions of dollars from advertising. It is, even if it doesn’t want to be called that, a gigantic media company. And yet it has an indifference toward the utility of advertising and marketing. The company was famous for spurning any advertising at all until it found the need to gain attention for its product. This ambivalence toward generating demand and awareness is highlighted in a new book by early Googler Douglas Edwards, who recounts Sergey Brin’s belief the company shouldn’t spend anything on marketing while spending on private chefs and massage therapists. Brin and cofounder Larry Page knew that for Google to be successful, it had to build the best product, which would be done by motivated engineers, not glossy ads. When Edwards brought up the idea of focusing on the brand, Page shot him down with the notion that Google should only win on quality. It betrays a deeper cultural belief at Google, driven by the engineer ethos, that marketing and branding is in some many ways a method of fooling people into buying things the don’t need or don’t really want. It is a form of trickery. That’s all well and good, but a profoundly odd concept to have in the DNA of a company currently astride the media world.

Quote of the Day: “We systematically overestimate the value of access to information and underestimate the value of access to each other.” Clay Shirky via @msquinn

Traditional TV’s Web Failures: NBC Universal recently threw in the towel on its effort at creating original content for the Web. That underscored the difficulty traditional TV companies have met when it comes to the Web as anything more than a distribution vehicle for repurposed TV content. The reason is they’ve treated online video as little more than a distraction. The marketplace is still too fragmented and YouTube is the only distributor of scale. WatchMoJo CEO Ashkan Karbasfrooshan thinks traditional TV companies are acting rationally and concentrating on making more money off their linear TV programming, whether that’s online or offline. It will be interesting to see if startups can fill the void. The promise of Web video programming has been just that. Not only hasn’t there been an I Love Lucy moment, there hasn’t been anything approaching a mediocre TV show moment.


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