Facebook may be at it again.
Efforts by the popular social networking site to better leverage the enormous amount of data it has on its users’ interests haven’t always gone over well. But with the privacy flap over its Beacon ad program now in its wake, Facebook may be next studying how to tap users’ information for a new purpose: to make their online experience more in sync with their mood.
Tech blogger Robert Scoble mentioned the plan in a blog post from a discussion he said he had this week with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
According to Scoble, Zuckerberg said Facebook is studying “sentiment” behavior: Based on users’ posts, the site can tell when bad news has hit, like stock prices tumbling.
While Zuckerberg admitted to Scoble that Facebook hasn’t figured out how to turn this data into new or improved services, Scoble thought it could lead to a new kind of news feed on the site, tailored to users’ interests or mood. He also imagined that Facebook might even be able to let users choose, for example, whether they only want to receive “happy” news.
Facebook did not return requests for comment by press time.
The speculation comes as Facebook continues seeking ways to parlay its staggering traffic into advertising revenue and to develop new business models. Thus far, the site’s success in either has proven limited.
Privacy, security and advertising
It’s unclear how much of this plan — if any of it — will make it into a live feature on the social networking site. It’s also uncertain whether it’s even a good idea, considering some of the problems Facebook has encountered in the past when it’s explored other ways to monetize user data.
For instance, its Beacon advertising effort — which sought to create product and service recommendations on the basis of users’ behavior — was met with a chorus of complaints.
As a result, Jupiter Research analyst Barry Parr said anything new Facebook does to tap personal information should be done on an experimental basis first.
“Google releases crazy stuff all the time via its Labs,” Parr told InternetNews.com. “A lot of it doesn’t go anywhere, but some of it does. When you consider Facebook is still trying to figure out its business model, the right approach for them is to experiment and do it lightly.”
[cob:Special_Report]Yet industry observers also note that Facebook’s ad business continues to need pumping up. Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin said Facebook needs to find ways to keep users on the site longer to make it more appealing to potential advertisers.
“New users spend a lot of time Facebook, and then there’s a drop-off where a lot of them just update their status and don’t stay as long,” Bajarin told InternetNews.com. “They want to be able to bring that quasi-portal experience to Facebook and make it the first place you go to in the morning.”
In addition to getting a handle on user’s mood, Bajarin said the company could cross-reference location and friend information and provide tailored information such as where to go for lunch.
“Whatever they end up doing, privacy and security has to be their foremost responsibility,” Bajarin said.