Social Data: Asset and Liability

February 10, 2014
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In late December of 2013, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt admitted that ignoring social networking had been a big mistake. ”I guess, in our defense, we were busy working on many other things, but we should have been in that area and I take responsibility for that,” he said.

Brass tacks: Google’s misstep and Facebook’s opportunistic land grab of social media have resulted in a striking data chasm between the two behemoths. As a result, Facebook can do something that Google just can’t.

To his credit, Mark Zuckerberg has not been complacent with this lead. This is an age of ephemera. He is building upon his company’s lead in social data. Case in point: the launch of Graph Search.

The rationale here is pretty straightforward: Why let Google catch up? With Graph Search, Facebook users can determine which of their friends have gone to a Mexican restaurant in the last six months in San Francisco. What about which friends like the Rolling Stones or The Beatles? (Need to resell a ticket? Why use StubHub here? Maybe Facebook gets a cut of the transaction?) These are questions and problems that Google can’t address but Facebook can.

All good for Zuck et. al, right? Not really. It turns out that delivering relevant social data in a timely manner is proving remarkably elusive, even for the smart cookies at Facebook.

The New News Feeds

As Wired reported in May of 2013, Facebook “redesigned its News Feed with bolder images and special sections for friends, photos, and music, saying the activity stream will become more like a ‘personalized newspaper’ that fits better with people’s mobile lifestyles.” Of course, many users didn’t like the move, but that’s par for the course these days. You’re never going to make 1.2 billion users happy.

But Facebook quickly realized that it didn’t get the relaunch of News Feed right. Not even close. Just a few weeks before Schimdt’s revealing quote, Business Insider reported that Facebook was at it again, making major tweaks to its feed and then halting its new launch. This problem has no simple solution.

Simon Says: Big Data Is a Full-Time Job

Big Data is no picnic. “Managing” it isn’t easy, even for billion-dollar companies such as Facebook. The days of “set it and forget it” have long passed. Organizations need to be constantly monitoring the effectiveness of their data-driven products and services, to say nothing of testing for security issues. (Can someone say Target?)

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