Apr 09

Stop advertising to individuals. Start advertising to their friends.

If you want to sell something to someone, you need to understand their likely future behaviour. What factors will influence what they’ll do next? One of the worst ways to do this is to ask them. People are very bad at predicting their future behaviour. Two of the best ways are:

- To look at their past behaviour. People form strong habits and patterns of behaviour over time. These can be projected forward. More on this another time.

- To look at what their friends are doing. If their friends start drinking pineapple flavoured vodka, they probably will too. If their friends buy Sony Ericsson phones, they probably will too. How might we provide better tools and incentives for inner friend circle recommendations?

Friends outside a Tokyo subway station all looking at their mate’s new phone.

Apr 09

Homophily and Facebook

Homophily on Wikipedia

Homophily (i.e., love of the same) is the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others. The presence of homophily has been discovered in a vast array of network studies. Within their extensive review paper, McPherson, Smith-Lovin and Cook (2001) cite over one hundred studies that have observed homophily in some form or another. These include age, gender, class, organizational role, and so forth.

This NYT article asks whether interaction on Facebook is changing this aspect of human behaviour:

PEOPLE, of course, sometimes like to keep secrets and maintain separate social realms — or at least a modicum of their privacy. But Facebook at almost 200 million members is a force that reinvents and tears at such boundaries. Teachers are yoked together with students, parents with their children, employers with their employees.

Uniting disparate groups on a single Internet service runs counter to 50 years of research by sociologists into what is known as “homophily” — the tendency of individuals to associate only with like-minded people of similar age and ethnicity…

I question whether Facebook and online media are changing this. Things like Friend Connect actually create more affordances for homophily. And we see again and again in research that the people communicated with most frequently on Facebook are people you already know in your real life. Facebook have also come out and stated that themselves:

…while the people you’re connected to on Facebook are called your “friends,” they’re more likely people you have met at some point in your life…The number of individuals that represent a person’s core support network has been found to be much, much smaller than their entire network…