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Facebook decides to bastardize its community

Want to drive users away? Use creepy advertising to make them uncomfortable.

Facebook on Tuesday announced its new advertising offerings. They seem pretty cool from a marketing perspective but have an underlying creepiness that should make users feel uncomfortable.

As CNET New.com's Caroline McCarthy writes:

Called Facebook Ads, the new program is threefold: Advertisers can create branded pages, run targeted advertisements, and have access to intelligence and analytics pertaining to the site's more than 50 million users. Partners can participate in all three components of Facebook Ads, or a combination of them.

Sounds good right? Who wouldn't want to target that active, young user base?

Additionally, Facebook has unveiled targeted advertisements that will allow marketers to target by any information inside Facebook profiles, from relationship status to favorite television shows.

Yikes, this is the part that freaks me out. Wasn't it just last month that we all enjoyed the Facebook privacy scandal? Kinda makes you wonder how it was able to develop algorithms for advertising that sound so detailed, doesn't it?

I already feel paranoid and exposed as a blogger, but the idea that my casual and personal details and conversations can end up as advertising dollars is freaky and unnerving. I also don't want to know if some kid I went to middle school with is buying a boat or adult diapers on Amazon.

One thing we've learned in open source is that you must grow a community of users that support your product and sustain themselves. To maintain that community you have to avoid hyper-aggressive marketing. In fact, if you look at the forums or mailing lists of the majority of open-source companies, it's difficult to find anyone marketing (at least not overtly) to their user base.

You can't bastardize your community or the community will disappear. This is something that I would have expected a site that relies on user-generated content to know.

I have to assume that the sheer size of the user base means that Facebook can do things like this with less impact. I also have to assume that it calculated the risks associated with such an aggressive program. So far it's not clear if/how one can opt out or what the data usage policy is.

Facebook has been fortunate to develop a huge user base and it's still early enough to introduce this new advertising without major impact. On the other hand, users are extremely fickle and there are a wide variety of alternative social networks.