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Published on November 26th, 2007 | by Tom

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Facebook Sent Me Your Underwear Size

Facebook, which I consider (along with Twitter) to be one of the most important platforms of our generation, has really stepped in it this time.  I am talking about the social networking company’s ill-conceived Beacon program which automatically sends detailed information about your online purchases to your friends network.  While the power of the system is clear–even desirable among many consumers–the execution has been a disaster.  At issue is the opt-out requirement. 

Here’s the problem: When you make a purchase from participating online retailers (there are 44 of them to date, including Fandango, Bluefly, Blockbuster and TripAdvisor), you have but a few seconds at check-out to opt out of the Beacon distribution, otherwise Facebook will automatically send notice of your transaction to everybody you know.  So when my friend Mark buys some women’s under garments and plans a trip to Bermuda, I get an email regaling me with the details along with the price he got.  That is fine if he got a great deal on a gift for his wife, is surprising her with a romantic trip, and wants–as he should–to share his bargain find with his pals.  But, if Mark bought the underwear for say, himself, and was planning a covert get-away to a cross-dressing resort, broadcasting the details may be a lot less desirable.  Facebook needs to change the Beacon program or risk irrevocably alienating its membership.

The first step is to understand what sites like Truemors understand well.  People do love to pass along information–but they want to decide what information and when and to whom.   Simply make the Beacon program opt-in and that issue will be resolved.  More importantly, Facebook–and its partners–need to give people incentives to opt-in and to pass along the information.  People are rational and reasonable.  They may want to pass on good information, but in so doing they reveal a lot about themselves: most of all they reveal their judgment, which is a big part of their reputations.  They will not risk their reputations lightly, so what gets passed along better be something special and motivating. 

Facebook is a great company, and the Beacon distribution program is a form of the "bemes" I have written about before (a beme is a network-propelled message) and bemes will define the future of consumer communications inside networks.  Despite the rocky start, the folks at Facebook are heading in the right direction, they just need to follow a better beacon.

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