In your face, Facebook style

commentary You won't be able to ignore ads on Facebook any longer, and that's going to thrill advertisers and Wall Street -- unless users are like me and hate it.

Thanks, Facebook, but I do not care about John Brown Smokehouse or Alchemy, Texas BBQ. Screenshot by CNET

I get it. All grown up (more or less) and a publicly traded company to boot, Facebook thinks day and night about how to better delight its advertisers and convince Wall Street that it's quite serious about monetizing the folks who use its social network.

Just look at Facebook's News Feed redesign and it's clear the powers-that-be have some very smart ideas about how to satisfy those first two constituencies. And what of those hundreds of millions of people who use Facebook to catch up on cute cat photos and the latest apercus from slightly batty relatives? Well, they'll have a chance to register their verdict as the changes get rolled out to more users in the coming weeks.

Watch that storyline. Facebook's advertisers ought to be thrilled, because the changes guarantee that their ads get noticed. That's the easy stuff. But now the $64,000 question: Will Facebook's (sometimes temperamental) users accept in their News Feed bigger, bolder ads that scream for attention? The advertisements are about twice as large as they used to be -- commensurate with other content that appears there.

In the past, Facebook's algorithms sometimes came in for ridicule for getting it wrong. But at least it was a case of out of sight, out of mind, with the ads off in a corner of the page where you could ignore them. No longer. Most Facebook users haven't yet seen the redesign, but that's soon to change.

Plus, it's not just about the size of the ads. This week Facebook started letting advertisers use Facebook Exchange to buy ad space in the News Feed. This retargeting has less to do with the social graph than on where you browse outside of Facebook. So now you'll have a mix of retargeted ads in the News Feed along with the so-called Sponsored Stories ads. (If there's a triangular "ad choices" logo, you should be able to opt out.) It makes for some strange (supposedly) social experiences. It's also a reversal of Facebook's earlier position on retargeted ads. As AllThingsD's Peter Kafka noted, up until last year, Facebook treated retargeting "with disdain." I suppose a slumping stock price and irate investors helped clarify the company's rethinking of the concept.

Full disclosure: I'm a cranky guy when it comes to having advertisements shoved in my face. I don't hang out on Facebook to peruse through stuff to buy, and I find both sorts of ads in my News Feed annoying. It isn't just that the ads are so large that I can't any longer ignore them. But algorithms will be algorithms and many of the advertisers I now see in my News Feed are completely unknown to me. Some are familiar, but I still don't care about what they have to offer.

So, Dear Facebook:

  • I do not care to eat at Pasta Pomodoro.
  • I do not care about what Cyprus may or may not teach the world about money and gold.
  • I do not care about John Brown Smokehouse or Alchemy, Texas BBQ.
  • I do not care about Mann Interactive and what it does in terms of Web site creation.
  • I do not care to refinance my house.
  • And I do not care to shop for a new Sprint cell phone.

I could go on, but you get the point. A represenative for Facebook offered up the standard nothing-is-set-in-stone response and that the company is gathering feedback during this early phase of the program. It very well might be that I'm part of a minority. If the rest of the world is fine with Facebook's bigger-is-better approach, then give management props for knowing how far to push the envelope -- and then some. If not, this will go down as one of those roll-the-dice moments where Mark Zuckerberg got forced back to the drawing board.

 

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