Predicting Facebook Presence (social location sharing)

I had lunch with a buddy last week and he asked me what I thought Facebook would do about mobile location. I told him that I had no idea, but that I know what I’d do in their place. So on my flight home, I wrote this, intending to email it around – but, since the talented MG wrote about Facebook’s location plans on TechCrunch today – I thought this might be interesting to more people. It sounds like Facebook isn’t taking the route I lay-out below; I’m excited to see what they do instead!  If you want to read about Facebook’s actual strategy, check out MG’s article linked above and Ian Schafer’s article in AdAge today: How Facebook’s Geo-Networking Plans Will Change Everything.


\n

Facebook has ~500 Million users and an interest in getting data they can target advertisements against. This gives them a very good reason to get into the location game. However, competing directly with the likes of GoWalla or FourSquare seems an inefficient way to complete this goal. Their goals are two-fold: creating an experience users love and collecting good data that advertisers can use to more effectively target their ads.

\n

There are four things Facebook could do together in order to accomplish this:

\n
    \n
  1. Incentivize mobile location companies to tie location data to a user’s Facebook profile and to share that data back to the network.
  2. \n
  3. Create a compelling experience for users around location data that’s complementary to other mobile location players.
  4. \n
  5. Turn user check-in locations into targeting data available for advertisers.
  6. \n
  7. Sell ads targeted to passive users (Brand Advertising) while letting mobile location companies sell ads that target users involved in a direct experience (Direct Response).
  8. \n
\n

I think each one of these steps requires a decent amount of space to properly detail (which I hope to sit down and do at some point), so for now I’ll paint in broad strokes.  Companies like GoWalla and Foursquare are quickly acquiring new users, but their biggest need is generating more users. Location is a network effects business, effectively making this a heads-up, winner take-all battle.

\n

Incentivize Data Sharing

\n

Companies are already using Broadcast networks like Twitter and Facebook – MyTown (another player in the space) rapidly grew to 1.5M users using viral channels on Facebook. Solid utilization of Facebook could give a location player an advantage in the war for users. If Facebook built a complementary business around location that helped those companies increase adoption, it’s likely many of them would take it (and give Facebook access to its location data).

\n

Create a Compelling Experience

\n

Facebook isn’t going to mess-up the user experience in order to unlock an additive amount of advertiser value – but getting location sharing right represents a serious improvement to user’s lives. Here’s how they could do that:

\n
    \n
  1. Create a data point about a user that represented their most-recent location (call this: "Location Status").
  2. \n
  3. Allow users to update using standards status update with special syntax: (i.e. "I’m at" @[Location] [contextual information])\n
      \n
    • Also allow users to connect with a service to update this (i.e. let GoWalla update my fb location)
    • \n
    \n
  4. \n
  5. Surface Location Status in proper ways on the site (box on profile, stream updates, mobile subscriptions)
  6. \n
\n
    \n

    Facebook should protect the UX and Privacy settings in order to stop malicious platform applications use this data, and each user should get full control over how they share location (on profile, in newsfeed, and/or allowing friends to subscribe to — or request subscription to — mobile updates) as well as who to share it with (allowed applications and friend lists).

    \n

    The location status update should include prominent reference to the update source, which would create a viral distribution channel to act as an incentive for location services to encourage users to allow them to write to the location status. Facebook could clearly communicate their strategy re: competition and hopefully win the trust of location players — Location Services are invested in several things:

    \n
      \n
    1. Building great user experiences around checking-in
    2. \n
    3. Creating databases to turn machine co-ordinates into user recognizable locations.
    4. \n
    5. Addictive mechanics to keep users coming back
    6. \n
    \n

    These companies could easily compete against the "Location Status Update" user experience provided by Facebook, and own the check-in. As long as Facebook clearly indicated that they’d prefer third parties owning the check-in (and having a direct relationship with the user), Location Service companies can decide for themselves whether the additional viral channels is worth sharing data with Facebook (a competitor in ad dollars)

    \n

    My guess is most will do so because user adoption benefits them in such a competitive market, but some won’t because they don’t like sharing valuable/proprietary data with Facebook.  Facebook gets data for enabling the growth of partners, and users have an easier way to share location and connect with friends.

    \n

    Turn check-ins into targeting data

    \n

    This would let Facebook know a place’s name and location on a map from the check-in – but they have to invest in creating advertiser context. If they know I check into "Epicenter Cafe" on foursquare, Facebook has to figure out what that says about me that advertisers might want to target against. Here are some examples of valuable targeting criteria you could extract from check-ins:

    \n
      \n
    • City/Neighboorhood
    • \n
    • Category of establishment
    • \n
    • Social Graph Representation (does that location have a facebook page, for example).
    • \n
    • Etc.
    • \n
    \n

    Two different advertisements

    \n

    Facebook’s ads are setup well to be persistent and targeted rather then presented in direct context – so they’ll enable those demand-gen type of advertising programs.  Location services can focus on highly engaging and contextual monetization programs (like sponsored badges, loyalty programs with establishments, geo-targeted offers, etc.).

    \n

    Taking this into account, it’s likely that Facebook could exist peacefully with several different location services. It’s likely that those players would be either focused on loyalty programs (huge market) or be smaller companies. It’s also worth noting that

    \n

    Worth Noting:

    \n
      \n
    • The Zynga/Facebook fight going on right now is the biggest danger to announcing a program like this.
    • \n
    • Foursquare, in particular, would likely be very unhappy about this, With their fundraising and valuation they would have a hard time justifying giving data away to a potential competitor for location based ad programs, yet they can’t afford to fall behind in user adoption  for their product.
    • \n
    • Presence was the coolest thing at F8 – the folks that put that together have already shown you some of the amazing things that could be the early version of the location status update formats. If Facebook wanted to go this alone, they could be VERY competitive, but I think they don’t need to use the resources for this.
    • \n
    • Facebook looks like it wants to go head-to-head with check-in services. Facebook wants to encourage every user on their service to be a mobile user (mobile users are more active and less likely to leave), this alone may be enough of a driver to launch their own check-in service. As well, they may want to extract more advertiser value and try to launch a contextual advertising offering at the point of check-in.
    • \n
    \n
    Big Think Edge
    • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
    • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
    • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.

    To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

    If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

    Personal Growth

    In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

    Keep reading Show less

    Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

    Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

    Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
    Surprising Science
    • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
    • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
    • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

    The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

    But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

    What's dead may never die, it seems

    The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

    BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

    The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

    As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

    The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

    "This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

    An ethical gray matter

    Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

    The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

    Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

    Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

    "This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

    One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

    The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

    "There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

    It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

    Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

    The dilemma is unprecedented.

    Setting new boundaries

    Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

    She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

    Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

    A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

    GoFundMe/Steve Munt
    Culture & Religion
    • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
    • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
    • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
    Keep reading Show less