In Defense of Facebook's Empire of "Like"

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This week, with the announcement of Facebook's new plug-ins and Open Graph protocol, the Internet became Mark Zuckerberg's playground, and his buffet. We the Users aren't just playing around in the Facebook ecosystem. We're also feeding it. Every time we click the "like" button by a CNN article, every time we our favorite music on Pandora and restaurants on Yelp, the hive-mind at Facebook HQ grows. Farhad Manjoo does a wonderful job explaining exactly what Facebook's empire of "like" buttons means for the company, and us:

It is difficult to underestimate the value, to Facebook, of all this activity. Now, very soon, it will also have the largest database connecting people to the things they enjoy, whether those things are news stories, restaurants, songs, books, movies, jeans, cosmetics, or anything else.

This is going to freak out some folks. After all, there's public, and then there's public. You can make a goofy Facebook profile picture accessible to anybody with a Facebook login, but you don't necessarily want it splashed on a highway billboard. You might be OK with friends checking out your favorite movies and music, but how would you feel about Best Buy, and IMDB, and Target knowing before you even told them because Facebook developed a proprietary information-sharing platform to help companies target consumers? We'll hear these concerns with increasing frequency.

But there's reason to be psyched, not spooked, by the empire of "like." Imagine the improvement to online shopping "if it made consistently good recommendations based on your known likes and dislikes," as Manjoo muses. Imagine the improvements to targeted advertising: you're browsing CNN on your smart phone and a mobile ad pops up with a happy hour coupon for a restaurant around the block you liked on Yelp. Imagine a news aggregation site that organized your friends' favorite opinion pieces by their self-described political persuasion, so that you could break out that news feed into liberal, conservative, and libertarian. A trainable Internet that listens and remembers what we like: that's not something to be afraid of.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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