Facebook's vaunted ad-targeting system, the buy-your-own ad tool meant to menace Google's $20 billion-a-year monster money machine, has become a joke. What only Internet-industry insiders seem to realize: It allows such minutely detailed targeting that people are now using it as a timewasting trick to amuse their friends — or total strangers. Underemployed rich kid Sam Lessin — yes, the one whose investment-banker dad provided the stage set for Camp Cyprus's Internet-destroying seaside frolic — created an ad meant to target his girlfriend, Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Vascellaro. Gizmodo, a gadget website, has had an intern hopeful targeting a Facebook ad at employees of Gawker Media, the publisher of both Gizmodo and Valleywag, for months. And now some fellow has started promoting his son's Twitter feed.The campaign isn't doing much for Johnny Nguyen of Crescent, Calif. Despite the ad, he only has eight followers on the microblogging site, which doesn't speak well for Facebook's efficacy as an advertising platform. But it does suggest a future for Facebook. Google is where people will go when they want to purchase customers. Facebook is where bored people will pay to entertain their friends, and lonely people will pay to feel like someone's listening to their Internet rants. Money can't buy you love, but it may get you a Facebook friend. Think of the money spent on 900 numbers by people who just want someone to talk to, and you can imagine the potential.
Faster! In the '90s, people used to reload websites to see if they'd updated. Too slow! Hence the invention of RSS, a protocol for distributing headlines and stories over the Web. Faster! RSS takes too long to update, and requires too much bandwidth to check more frequently. Faster! Visiting multiple social networks takes too long. Paul Buchheit, an ex-Google engineer, cofounded FriendFeed, a site which uses RSS heavily to monitor your friends' activities across multiple websites. Faster! Now Buchheit is working on a replacement for RSS called SUP, or "Simple Update Protocol."The play on "whassup" seems almost too obvious to mention — but keeping users ultracurrent on their friends' doing is very much the intention. SUP will let sites like FriendFeed pick up news quicker, avoiding the risk that you might be even 30 minutes out of date on swift-moving trends like which avatar style people are using on Twitter. Faster! Faster! Faster!
The Internet has left us not quite ourselves. Half of San Francisco and Brooklyn, it suddenly seems, wishes they were high school students in the '50s. The other half would rather be in a Japanese manga graphic novel. This urge to be someone slightly different has been capitalized on by two websites: FaceYourManga and Yearbook Yourself. The market need is obvious: For every social network you join, you need a profile pic, lest you be marked as an outcast with an anonymous default image. Drunken party snapshots do the trick for MySpace. But the pressure to find the perfect photo has led some down rather odd roads in an idealized quest for a better, cuter self. These profile pictures say, "This is me, but not really me."Jason Kottke, a popular blogger, wrote about the Yearbook Yourself site on Sunday. Ev Williams, the founder of Twitter, soon adopted an Eisenhower-era look on his site, even as he complained about the trendiness of FaceYourManga. His colleague at Twitter, Biz Stone, was an early adopter of the manga look last week. A Twitter user, Vishy Venugopalan, notes that it's too late to go manga, and has followed Williams on the Yearbook trend. This is fashion, of course, nothing more and nothing less. Countless startups have sprung up around the idea of blinging your "avatar," the fancy word entrepreneurs like to use for one's online depiction of self. But no one seems to be making money off this trend. Yearbook Yourself, improbably, was offered up by a chain of shopping centers, which advertises some of the apparel chains in its malls on the site. FaceYourManga only says that it is "property of Pixelheads," which appears to be some kind of Web design operation. The profile-pic generator is nothing new. A Simpsons avatar generator was popular last year. Nintendo's Wii uses "Mii" avatars, whose manga-lite stylings became popular even off the videogame console. But the two new sites show that demand is spreading. There may not be a market in this, but there is a mania. What we lose is any sense of who we're dealing with online. Unreal avatars serve to further the breakdown of online manners, and personal boundaries. It's easier to flirt with, or insult, a manga character or a black-and-white Photoshop job than a real person. Of course, our online friends never really were our friends, were they? Look at them: They're just funny pictures, acquaintances as trading cards. Collect them all. (Profile pics by ev, biz, caroline, and midtownninja)
Facebook chat will no doubt improve the sex lives of college students everywhere. Asking for someone's AIM is totally obvious; it's like the oldest move in the Web 1.0 book. Facebook message flirting takes forever. So Facebook chat just may become the most subtle and fastest way to get laid in college. The only problem is that I'm not in college. I'm an adult who uses Facebook to judge the lives of people I knew in college. Facebook chat reminds me that I'm old. But that's only part of the problem.