Once Again: Facebook is Evil

thumb_32friendsworthI mean this.  If you want to make free contributions to market totalitarianism’s Big Brother, keep your Facebook account.

Here’s the real purpose of that account, as reported by Business Week for June 1, 2009:

Advertisers are…interested in understanding individuals. Decoding friendship, many believe, could be the key to getting consumers’ attention. Historically, this wasn’t so hard. Information was in short supply, and by comparison, time was cheap. Not long ago millions waited through entire newscasts just to learn who won a game or what tomorrow’s weather would be. This was ideal for advertisers: They had a captive audience.

For all its popularity, Facebook has yet to prove itself as an advertising platform. Visitors, it seems, focus on their friends and pay scant attention to ads. Few click on them, and advertisers pay pennies for page views. Consequently, Facebook, with its estimated revenue of $300 million this year, brings in scarcely a dime a month per member.

Now we’re swimming in information. We can call up nearly every bit of news, music, and entertainment we want on demand. In fact, there’s so much of it that we need filters to block the boring or irrelevant stuff and help us find the bits we need or desire. This has created what many call the “Attention Economy.” Says Bernardo A. Huberman, director of the Information Dynamics Laboratory at Hewlett-Packard: “The value of most information has collapsed to zero. The only scarce resource is attention.” So how do we figure out where to direct it?

The easiest way is to get tips from friends. They’re our trusted sources. At least a few of them know us better than any algorithm ever could. Little surprise, then, that the companies most eager to command our attention are studying which friends we listen to. Online friendship is a hot focus for Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. They joust to hire leading sociologists, anthropologists, and microeconomists from MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley. Microsoft just established a research division focused on social sciences in Cambridge, Mass.

Statistically, friends tend to behave alike. A couple of years ago researchers at Yahoo found that if someone clicked on an online ad, the people on his or her instant chat buddy list, when served the same ad, were three to four times more likely than average to click on it. It makes sense. Friends share interests.

But it raised lots of questions. Which types of friends have the most meaningful correlations with each other? People have always confided in a small circle of intimates, often only two or three. They’ve also had wider circles of experts for specific advice, whether on cars or cooking. Then there’s a broader circle of acquaintances whose opinions count far less but who can still generate buzz about a new restaurant or senatorial candidate. By studying patterns of interactions on networks—often scrutinizing us only as anonymous bits of data—researchers are working to predict which friends we trust and which we pay attention to in each area of our lives.

In an office above Palo Alto’s University Avenue, a lean 32-year-old PhD from MIT’s Media Lab pores over the data connecting millions of dots. Cameron A. Marlow, a research scientist at Facebook, has perhaps the greatest lab in history for studying [how to exploit] friendship. He can study social media communications including wall posts, shared photos, pokes, and friend requests among 200 million people.

The hope is that if Marlow and his team manage to track the paths of influence among its communities, the company [Facebook] might be able to offer more effective and lucrative advertisements and promotions.

An early step is to separate each user’s friends into clusters. Marlow pulls out a chart illustrating the social network of one of his colleagues, Alex Smith. It shows different groups of dots and their connecting links. One big and busy group represents fellow workers at Facebook. Others are high school friends, family, in-laws, frat brothers. Understanding these types of relationships could provide valuable context.

Marlow’s team recently carried out a study to determine how close we are to our friends online. They looked at how often people clicked on their friends’ news or photos, how often they communicated, and if the communications traveled in both directions. Studying this data, they determined that an average Facebook user with 500 friends actively follows the news on only 40 of them, communicates with 20, and keeps in close touch with about 10. Those with smaller networks follow even fewer. What can this teach advertisers? People don’t pay much attention to most of their online friends. By focusing campaigns on people who interact with each other, they’ll likely get better results.

Remember when capitalism’s apologists used to dismiss the very idea of socialism because of its alleged inherent reliance on social engineering?

All Creep, All the Time

duckcreepBack in the hoary yesteryear of 2007, there was a minor brouhaha over the State Farm Insurance Company’s placement of its logo on the cross-bars of basketball stanchions during NCAA games.  At the time, The New York Times‘ fine advertising columnist, Stuart Elliott, reported on the marketing advance, naming it as a good example of ad creep.

Elliott contacted State Farm marketers, who disclosed their motives:

“Consumers consume media differently from three years ago,” said Mark Gibson, assistant vice president for advertising at State Farm in Bloomington, Ill. “It’s not enough to just run a 30-second commercial in a program.”

This admission of existing marketing-stimuli being “not enough” was, of course, followed by de rigueur professions of the corporation’s tender concerns for “consumers”:

In seeking alternatives to traditional ads, State Farm’s goal is “naturally, seamlessly integrating
the brand into a venue in a way that doesn’t take away from the event,” Mr. Gibson said.

If it causes disruption or becomes something people don’t like, it’s an issue,” he added, “and
consumers will let you know in their own way.”

So far, Mr. Gibson said, there have been no complaints about the signs. They are appearing at
universities that include Arizona State, Auburn, Baylor, Brigham Young, Florida State, Iowa State, Marshall, Miami, North Carolina State, Purdue, Texas A&M, the University of Colorado, Vanderbilt and the University of California, Los Angeles.

“State Farm was very sensitive about the schools doing this and didn’t push if a school felt it
was not right,” said Greg Brown, president at the Learfield Sports division of Learfield Communications in Plano, Tex., which represents 32 universities in their dealings with corporate marketers.

“The college landscape is a much more reserved landscape than Nascar or a variety of other
sports enterprises,” Mr. Brown said. “There’s headroom in what we do, by comparison, but we
don’t do something the schools won’t agree with.”

Mr. Brown says he believes “we’ve struck a nice balance” with the State Farm signs, because
they are visible to fans at the games as well as viewers on TV but are “not in your face.”

Time travel with me now to the year 2009, won’t you.  What do we find here?

Voila:

hoopcreep

and…

ball-ad-5

and…

ball-ad-3

Behind the Toilet Paper: Can You Spot the True Asshole?

In a February 25 New York Times piece titled “Mr. Whipple Left It Out: Soft Is Rough on Forests,” Leslie Kaufman reported that making toilet paper feel puffy and textured is now a major use of the Earth’s remaining old-growth forests.

Kaufman, of course, reports a corporate paper executive’s recitation of the industry’s standard public story of how and why this appalling waste happens:

Customers “demand soft and comfortable,” said James Malone, a spokesman for Georgia Pacific, the maker of Quilted Northern.

That, of course, is a howling lie.  The one and only reason for the advent of puffed-up toilet paper is the normal corporate capitalist sales imperative, not any kind of spontaneous clamoring from us ordinary ass-wipers.

Here is the real scoop, from a classic 1998 Wall Street Journal report titled “The Tricky Business of Rolling Out a New Toilet Paper,” by the excellent Tara Parker-Pope:

This [purportedly fancy toilet paper] is Kimberly-Clark’s biggest push ever in the $3.5 billion-a-year U.S. toiletpaper business, where it is a relative newcomer. Its original Kleenex toilet-tissue brand struggled after its introduction in 1990.  The company merged with Scott Paper, maker of the Scott and Cottonelle brands, in 1995 and created Kleenex Cottonelle, which helped Kimberly-Clark gain a 23% share of the market. But it trails rival Procter & Gamble’s Charmin, which has 30%. Among premium tissues, Kleenex Cottonelle still ranks a distant fourth behind Charmin, Fort James’s Northern and Georgia-Pacific’s Angel Soft.  Overall, bath-tissue sales are flat and premium brands are losing share to economy-priced tissue.

In other words, the real spur to all this environment-raping TeePee was stagnant corporate profits, not popular demand. Left to their own devices, people gravitate toward “economy-priced tissue.”

This, of course, meant that people simply could not be left to their own devices, them and nature be damned.

Pope conveyed the outlines of the usual consequent marketing procedures, which have since yielded the true course of events:

Kimberly-Clark hosted focus groups to talk to consumers about toilet paper, and asked them to compare leading brands with the new Kleenex Cottonelle textured tissue. They discovered that even though tissue advertising doesn’t talk about how well a toilet paper wipes, that is what customers are thinking about.

In the meantime, the company will launch a new, softer version of Kleenex Cottonelle in the rest of the U.S. Those more-traditional ads show a bubble drifting onto folds of toilet tissue. But the product package includes the “clean, fresh feeling” promise, in an effort to prime consumers for the eventual appearance of the textured tissue nationwide.

In similar fashion, the alleged proof of the alleged product benefit comes after, not before, claims about it are implanted into “the consumer”:

“If we have news that’s important for a consumer, then we can find a way to tastefully communicate it,” says Tom Falk, group president of Kimberly-Clark’s North American tissue, pulp and paper business.

The advertising solution is an anthropomorphic roll of toilet paper with a heavy British accent (the voice of London actress Louise Mercer from the old NBC sitcom “Dear John”). “I’m new Kleenex-Cottonelle toilet paper, and I understand you have a cleaning position available,” the tissue says. “I have a unique, rippled texture designed to leave you feeling clean and fresh. I’d love to show you what I can do.”

In another ad, the tissue brags that consumers prefer it to the leading brand. “Looks like all my bottom-line thinking is paying off,” the tissue says. For now, the ads will claim only that consumers say the new tissue leaves them feeling cleaner than other brands, but Kimberly-Clark is “working on a way to objectively measure cleaning better,” says Mr. Willetts. “There’s no method right now.”

Oh, there’s a method alright. George Orwell is spinning in his grave…

The Bonfire of the Literacies

American political leaders, being deeply indoctrinated actual or aspiring millionaires/billionaires, have long equated capitalism and democracy. In reality, capitalism places very strong limits on democracy. Basic economic policy, the allocation of government spending, transportation policy, global governance, serious restriction of wealth and income polarization (income floors and salary caps for everybody!) — all these things and more are very emphatically “off the table” in capitalist democracy, simply and consistently verboten to voting.

Yet that’s only half the story. Consider, meanwhile, what the normal operation of the system does to the very roots of egalitarian self-governance.
Continue reading “The Bonfire of the Literacies”