Thirty-one per cent of users of social networking services enter false information into the sites to protect their identity, according to Emedia.
Much of the hype surrounding Facebook – and it’s tipped to be the biggest tech IPO since Google – is founded on its ability to monetise those 150 million users. For if at the cold, cold heart of Web 2.0 is a data collection and warehousing exercise, then Facebook has the most valuable database outside the Googleplex. Evidently lots of marketers agree – and activity around the Facebook API is frenetic today.
But what if that information is worthless?
It depends on what you’re trying to do with it. If you’re selling tangibles directly – such as concert tickets or photo prints – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. For example, iLike boasts 850,000-odd users for its widget which lets you see what concerts friends are going to, then offers you the chance to buy tickets. TicketMaster is an investor to the tune of $15m, and must be one of the best investments it’s made. As a retail channel, social networking sites are good, as long as the audience is there.
But if you’re looking for “market intelligence”, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. The web can tell us what we already know, the bleeding obvious – people get more drunk at weekends, for example, or talk about Harry Potter books more frequently when there’s a new Harry Potter book out. But if you want to infer anything more sophisticated, the Hive Mind is no help at all.