Facebook can help you buy anything (except friends)

Facebook just announced that it is acquiring a personalized shopping search engine called TheFind, which has over 15 million current users.

TheFind touts its search engine as the only way to search everything available for sale on the internet, and can match even very vague terms like “white sweater” with a vast array of relevant options.

TheFind also has localization features, meaning that it can return relevant results within a specified geographic area in case the user prefers to buy in-person. Since TheFind aggregates prices across the universe of online and brick and mortar vendors, the user doesn’t need to traverse multiple websites (or physical locations) to find the best deal.

Facebook plans on shutting down the search engine capabilities, but rest assured that they have some clever plans for monetizing this technology. Most likely, this will involve better contextualization of posts and messages that Facebook users generate to make advertisements even more hyper-targeted than they already are.

Perhaps in anticipation of this acquisition, Facebook recently launched an ad sales team with the express purpose of promoting specific items that advertisers are trying to push. There’s no doubt that TheFind strengthens Facebook’s ability to pitch this service to advertisers, as well as charge a significant premium versus

Although Facebook ads may now potentially become even more creepy than they already are, this acquisition should be a win-win-win. It’s win for consumers, who should receive more relevant and better offers; win for advertisers, who can better match ads with the right consumers; and a HUGE win for Facebook, which should be able to further mark up its ad inventory.



Facebook Buys And Shuts Down Shopping Site TheFind To Boost Commerce In Ads

Implications of the Quantified Self

The emergence of mobile devices, constant connectivity, and big data has led to unprecedented visibility into our lives. We now constantly have applications tracking our searches, our likes, and every step we take (maybe even every breath we take?).

This parallel identity can be called the “quantified self”- the aggregation of all the actions we take online, collected into a measurable history from which a capable data scientist can construct an eerily accurate demographic and psychographic profile. This is fantastic news for marketers, and enables companies to more accurately target the right consumers with the right offers, at the right time (and increasingly, in the right place). We as consumers benefit from this as well- we receive less “spam” and irrelevant information, and receive better education and better deals on the things we actually care about. There’s no doubting that the evolution of the quantified self has been good for business- but what about the effect on our personal lives?

The aforementioned trends started to remind me a lot of George Orwell’s prescient novel 1984. As depicted in that novel, we now have “screens” that monitor us 24/7- our smartphones. While smartphones don’t actively record us or every conversation that we have, they do collect an amount of personal data that would have shocked Orwell. Think for a minute about all of the data that Facebook is collecting on you- while Big Brother isn’t watching you, Zuckerberg and his team certainly are.

The key distinction between 1984 and today is that an absolutist tyrannical government isn’t forcing this upon us- we are all willingly signing up for this data collection when we sign the Terms of Use for every “free” app and service (as an aside- and not for the easily offended- South Park hilariously lampooned Apple’s iTunes agreement in the “Human CentiPad” episode). Admit it- you never read those ridiculously long agreements- no one does. So who knows how your data is actually being used?

I believe that data today is (for the most part) being used purely for commercial, and not nefarious purposes. However, it will be an incredibly important issue for us to monitor as a society, as it appears that a small oligopoly of companies is collecting more and more data (think Facebook, Google, etc.). Also- behind the scenes, how are the NSA and other government agencies accessing our information? We don’t know the answers to these questions, but they are questions that should impact how we conduct business, how we vote, and how we interact with technology.

Bringing the analogy full circle- Apple made a big splash early on with its 1984-inspired Super Bowl commercial. There’s a certain element of irony that they now more closely resemble Big Brother than the hammer-throwing rebel that symbolized their brand in the commercial.




Insights on the current Digital Boom

I had the good fortune of hearing Henry Blodget, CEO of Business Insider, speak at last Tuesday night’s Digital Investing class. Mr. Blodget shared stories about founding and building the company, explained the trends that Business Insider is capitalizing upon, and his thoughts on where the news media business is heading. A few weeks before that, he presented at the Digital Life Design Conference in Munich, and shared some insights that should be eye-opening for anyone whose business is affected by digitization (in other words, all of us). The slide deck is available here.

Because you probably don’t have time to read through the entire deck, I wanted to synthesize some of the key themes and highlight some of the most compelling points.

The first and most obvious point is the growth of all things digital, and especially mobile- growth in smartphone sales, connected devices, etc. There are some surprising datapoints here- for instance, tablets are growing at the slowest rate since introduction (perhaps due to cannibalization from “phablets”, the fastest-growing mobile category). Also, contrary to popular belief, the market dynamic is not just Apple vs Samsung- Chinese smartphone manufacturers now represent ~25% of worldwide sales.

Secondly, it is sometimes easy to mindlessly praise at the growth of technology, and overlook the “creative destruction” and decline of traditional media delivery vehicles. Print revenues for newspapers are significantly less than half of what they were at peak in 2005-2006, and the growth in the online businesses for newspapers has only made up a very small fraction of this difference. Uber and other digital businesses promise to provide the same level of disruption to other traditional industries.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing fact in this presentation is the absolute growth and domination of Google- it is now bringing in significantly more ad revenue itself than ALL newspapers and magazines in the US combined, and is roughly half the size of the ENTIRE global TV ad market. Wow. Additionally, Google is crushing it in terms of Chrome, Android, and YouTube market share in each respective market as well.

Similarly, according to Nielsen, Facebook reaches more people 18-24 than the four major TV networks. Netflix now has more subscribers in the US than HBO (though the release of the standalone HBO Go app may change that). It is inevitable that money will follow the eyeballs, and this represents a big threat to any traditional media companies who don’t get directly into the digital distribution game themselves. However, a growth opportunity exists with the lines blurring around “primetime” TV, as people time shift their viewing and watch more on mobile devices. This effectively creates an 18/7 split, meaning that media companies can potentially monetize ads 18 hours a day due to increased consumer engagement- representing an increase in the inventory that they can deliver for advertisers.

Despite all of the positive trends and optimism regarding digital revolution, Blodget points to historical booms/bubbles as well as the inevitable busts that followed. He articulates that, based on capital flows and fundraising, we are in a boom but not quite a bubble like the late ’90s (though I would argue we are pretty damn close- 2014 numbers weren’t fully reflected on his charts, and those valuations are creeping towards late ’90s levels).

Based on these charts, the average period from beginning of boom to bust appears to be around seven years. If you categorize the beginning of the current boom as beginning in 2009, that posits a bust occurring sometime in 2016.

Is the party over for these guys? I don’t think so, but they might want to exercise those stock options before the end of the year…

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/blodget-boom-will-become-bust-2015-2?op=1