Streams of Data Endlessly Intersecting

On Friday, TIME columnist Joel Stein tweeted, “Quitting Facebook is just the new ‘I don’t own a TV.’” I’m not sure what that makes, “I’m not on Twitter,” but the comment stood out to me since two days before I’d read Farhad Manjoo’s Slate piece on how parallel TV and Facebook are…in the realm of advertising.

When we talk about Internet ads, the conversation generally devolves into phrases like click-through rates and costs per click and other phrases that shrink the collective soul of the human race by so many nanometers every time they’re mentioned.

Internet ads have historically (and I mean back to the time of King Richard III) been held to a different and unique standard not applied for billboards and television and newspaper ads and anything else you can’t click on (yet). And, of course, it’s a flawed standard, since it’s already turned cliché that the only time you click on an Internet ad is by accident.

And the same criticisms are often launched with demonic glee at Facebook ads. Except that Facebook ads work. Just not in the traditional Internet way…in the traditional advertising way. According to Manjoo:

In the 1970s and ’80s, advertisers and analytics firms like Nielsen came up with a variety of ways to analyze ads on the tube. Among other things, they instituted standardized measurements to compare TV to other media—like “gross ratings points”—and, after surveying consumers’ purchases, they figured out how people’s TV viewing affected their buying habits. Today, thanks to a practice known as “mix modeling,” the return on TV advertising is exquisitely measurable. Large advertisers like Procter & Gamble know exactly how much they’re getting out of it…

Now Facebook is trying to bring to the Web same rigorous metrics that have ruled brand advertising on television. “We’re trying to create industry standards around how people advertise online,” says Brad Smallwood, the Facebook vice president in charge of its measurement and insights team. At the core of this work is Facebook’s partnership with Datalogix…What they came up with was a Rube Goldbergian system that strips out personally identifiable information from the databases at Facebook, Datalogix, and the major retailers while still matching people and their purchases.

The truth is, ads work wherever there are enough eyeballs. And these days, there are more eyeballs focused on Facebook as on TV. Also, that we’re all just streams of data endlessly intersecting.

That tightness in your chest is just your soul constricting just a bit. Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.

Photo credit: Trey Ratcliff, Flickr