This evening I watched Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s F8 conference talk through all the cool new stuff, from the new timeline, that displays the highlights of your life since birth, to the media app integration with ‘ticker’, which allows your friends to know exactly what media you are consuming at all times, to Zuckerberg’s generous gift of a whole new set of ‘verbs’ (such as ‘read’ and ‘watched’) that take our minds to wild new worlds beyond the humble ‘like’. But the innovation I am most excited by is one that has received almost no coverage.
That innovation is called Facebook Things.
What is ‘Facebook Things’?
Facebook Things is the name given to the new network of real world objects stored in Facebook. These objects could be anything you own: your car, your favourite pair of shoes, your computer, your washing machine, your dog.
For each object added to Facebook Things, you can do the following:
- Name it
- Add pictures of it
- Add video of you using it
- Add your review of it
- Add the best links about it
- Rate it, on many different criteria
- Set a price and offer to sell it
Some online retailers could even integrate their checkouts with Facebook Things, so that your new purchases are added to Facebook Things at the point of sale.
The Internet of Things
Then Facebook does its clever stuff, and automatically relates this object to any similar objects that others have added across the whole of Facebook. The aim is to build something like a Wikipedia of real objects, but each connected to their owners – a community of owners, in other words.
Where people have added the same object – eg a particular model of mobile phone – Facebook will rationalise this into a single object. This is similar to how eBay groups identical items.
Creating a network of objects fused with Facebook’s network of people makes the following possible:
- Before buying something, you will be able to see who else has bought it and make a better informed decision about whether to buy. This is similar to Amazon, except since the reviews are linked to Facebook profiles, you can restrict the opinions you see to, say, only those people you know, or only people aged 30-40, or only doctors.
- After buying something, you can show your friends what you’ve bought, get their opinions and see whether anyone else you know has bought the same thing. You can bond over a purchase and share tips for how to use the thing you have bought.
- Based on the objects you own, Facebook will be able to make extremely accurate recommendations for products you might like to buy. Again, Amazon does this, but only based on products you have bought on Amazon. Facebook Things can do it based on every object you have added to Facebook. It can build up a more accurate picture of your tastes.
- Based on the objects you own, Facebook will be able to suggest new people to connect with, who may share similar interests or tastes.
- If you ever have any problems with or queries about a product – like you don’t know how to fix your car or can’t work your phone – you can easily connect with a vast global community of people who own the same item. You can put out a request for support, and fellow owners will come to your rescue. This is about bringing the support forum to you – right to your Facebook page.
- Companies will also be able to help you more. They will be able to provide product help tailored to you.
- Companies will build up an extremely accurate picture of what people think about their products and the profile of typical owners.
- Companies will be able to tailor ads and promotions based on products you already own.
- If you need to borrow something, or want to buy something second hand, you can also put out a request – including the time you wish to borrow it for, or the price you are willing to pay. This is rather like eBay, but with your trusted network of Facebook friends as an additional layer on top.
Facebook Things recognises that perhaps one of the most essential verbs in our consumerist society is ‘own’. The things we own define us, even if the Dalai Lama and John Lennon may have preached the contrary.
We have a great urge to tell people about the stuff we buy, and a great need to learn from other people about what they think of the things they own.
Facebook has detailed information about half a billion people in its database, and with Facebook Things it could add an even larger number of objects. It could reveal truths about the relationship between humans and their possessions that psychologists and market researchers can only hypothesise about.
So when can we try?
I am excited to try out Facebook Things, to find out which of my friends has the same things as me, and to connect with a wider community of like-minded owners.
Unfortunately, I will have to wait until Facebook Things is invented.
But it’s a nice idea, don’t you think?