Last week was a busy, high-profile one for Facebook (FB). The company introduced its one billion-plus users to “Facebook Home” last Thursday, a sort of mobile operating system within Google's (GOOG) Android operating system, as well as an HTC smartphone that comes already equipped with the software.
One week later, CEO Mark Zuckerberg led the tech community into political activism with the announcement of FWD.us, the tech industry’s political action committee, which it hopes will allow it to influence the debate on immigration reform in the U.S.
Zuckerberg is backed in his efforts by some of the industry’s major players: Google chairman Steve Schmidt, Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer, LinkedIn (LNKD) founder Reid Hoffman, Zynga (ZNGA) CEO Mark Pincus, and Dropbox CEO Drew Houston.
The purpose of the PAC is to push congress to adopt legislation that would keep highly skilled workers in the country legally, a vital necessity if the United States is to lead what Zuckerberg calls the “Knowledge Economy.”
In the middle of all this, however, Facebook has made a couple of smaller, lower-profile moves that may turn out to be of equal or even greater significance.
For instance, Facebook last week also, somewhat quietly, purchased the tech startup Osmeta, a company that describes itself on its website as follows: “Our 19-person engineering team consists of world-renowned hackers and highly accomplished researchers capable of herculean software engineering. The breadth and depth of computer science knowledge contained within the brains of our team is remarkable. Most of us have had illustrious careers at places such as Google, IBM (IBM) Research, Yahoo Research, and VMware (VMW).”
Yet Osmeta, at no place on its website, actually says what it is that the company is up to, though it has been described as a “stealth mobile software startup,” which would be fitting with the roll out of Facebook Home, and the company’s increasing focus on mobile ad revenue. In any event, their self-description from their website, playful as it is, comes off less as bragging and more as statement of fact.
And then, on Wednesday, Facebook softly announced a new feature for advertisers called “partner categories”.
Using third party-data from companies like Datalogix, Epsilon, and Acxiom (ACXM), Facebook is matching the information it has collected on the consumer preferences of its users with off-line shopping data about the same users, provided by the latter companies.
In other words, it no longer matters nearly as much what information you do or do not share on your personal Facebook page, because the company has created a sort of profile of each user based not only on their activity on the social media site, but also their real-life shopping habits. The company then categorized users according to preference, i.e.- “Dair & Egg Buyers”, “Condiments & Dressing Buyers”, and so on.
Last year, advertising made up the lion’s share of Facebook’s revenue at 84 percent, and the company’s moves over the last week should be understood in this context. Furthermore, the expansion of user data to include their non-Facebook, offline shopping habits could allow the company to really begin competing with Google for those ad dollars.
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