In terms of targeted content, I definitely think there are lots of contexts in which it's very effective. I talked to someone at Facebook who told me a kind of amazing story. Which is that, basically, Facebook's sole preoccupation is keeping people on Facebook. They're really trying to maximize minutes on the site. And so the kinds of things that they do are: they know that if you're a woman in her mid-30s who sees that one of your friends has uploaded a picture of herself, you are likely in the next month to upload a picture of yourself. And if you upload a picture of yourself, then your male friends are pretty likely to comment on that picture, and if your male friends comment on the picture, then they're likely to use the site more. They get a bump in the amount that they use Facebook, because they've had this positive interaction with someone of the opposite gender. So, according to this person at Facebook, what they actually do is run that whole thing in reverse, and they say, "Ah, Eli hasn't been using Facebook that much recently, so let's find one of his female friends, show her pictures of her friends to get her to upload something, to get Eli to comment on it, to get him to use the site more." As diabolical as that sounds, it seems very plausible to me that that does in fact help to keep people on the site. The questions it raises is: What does it mean that you have this massive social engineering going on, for no greater purpose than: "How do you keep people on Facebook as long as possible?"
Two retorts: the first is that, as sinister as the notion of "Let's keep people on Facebook as long as possible" is, that's the nature of media, right? I mean, when you lay out a magazine, what you're basically saying is, "How do I get this person to read as many pages as possible, and see as many ads as possible, and preferably come back and buy it the next month?" When Charles Dickens was serialized in newspapers, the idea was to get you to buy more and more of them, although maybe it's a little different because Facebook is a communication mechanism. Second piece of the retort: I use Facebook every so often, and I've also sensed some of this personalization. But frequently it's really, really poor, and so my example of this is that I get my little reminder in the corner saying, "You haven't talked lately with your friend Hossein Derakhshan — why don't you get back in touch?" And of course the only problem is that Hossein Derakhshan is in Evin Prison [in Iran], which makes it a little difficult to stay in touch with him. And you would think that maybe there would be some sort of decay feature where after 18 months they figured out that that person is not coming back. I mean, you've written a book based on talking to the people who are working incredibly hard to make these types of personalization technologies work — is it possible that what you're really reporting on is their sort of "dream future," and the reality we're dealing with is a whole lot clumsier and a whole lot less subtle and effective?
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