Facebook Announcement Signals the Age of Discovery

Facebook's F8 Conference starts today, and early sources are announcing profound user-facing changes. Among them are the additions of "Read", "Listened", "Watched", and "Want" buttons. With more users reaching content through means other than direct search, these buttons signal a new way of thinking -- and put Facebook at the forefront of a paradigm shift already underway. Get ready for the Age of Discovery.

Search gave us a way of locating information simply and easily. Social has added personality to the web: it allows us to connect with people and content. Through the social Internet, we share comments, thoughts, opinions, style and taste. Combine the two, and the result is a rich user experience, filled with personalized content and relevant recommendations. Looking for a place to eat based on user reviews and other restaurants you like? Alfred. Want to find new music and hear what your friends are listening to? Turntable. Need an outfit and like a particular designer? Lyst. Yep, there are apps for those situations -- and just about every other scenario where taste might drive your decision to watch, read, listen or buy. There is a whole spate of sites and apps looking to leverage our likes, tally our tweets, and put our posts to work for us.

Of course Discovery has been a feature of the Internet for a long time (Amazon, Pandora, and Netflix are just a few companies that come to mind), but there's an important difference between "today's most-emailed stories" and content that relates to the stories I've read, liked, or reviewed. This is discovery based on me.

Even the Wall Street Journal is getting on board: just this week it unveiled a new app that runs entirely within Facebook -- redesigning its entire user-experience around content discovery. A user chooses streams they want to follow, and the app filters this information through the user's social-graph to determine relevant content. Just five years ago, most of us would have found this invasive. But our adoption of the social Internet has built trust between users and applications. Now, we hardly hesitate when sites ask for our email, or request access to our Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds.

Thanks to open APIs, Facebook and Twitter are useful starting points for discovery apps -- and look for many more to be built on them. That said, it is difficult to recommend a complete wardrobe for someone from a handful of likes or tweets. In most cases, quality machine learning requires anywhere from dozens to hundreds of data points -- which puts most discovery-oriented sites at an information disadvantage.

Enter Facebook. By introducing "Read", "Watched", and "Listened", Facebook is adding granularity to its tagging system. Further, the company is expected to announce major partnerships with content providers in each of these areas. Not only will Facebook be better positioned to track what is being shared between its users, it also seems intent on positioning itself at the center of where users discover relevant content.

Importantly, what the ages of Search and Social had in common was their ability to drive traffic, transactions, and revenue. With this in mind, most important will be Facebook's deployment of the "Want" button. After all, what makes Discovery compelling is the promise of higher conversion. By leveraging individuals' taste, preferences, and past history, we ensure content and products reach a more engaged customer. Combining all that we know with what we expect to hear later this week at F8, Facebook will be able to offer marketers an irresistible value-proposition: the right recommendation, to the right user, at the right time.

Though we can only speculate where all this is headed, we can promise Facebook will be at the center of it.