Facebook already knows what you "like." It could be near uncovering your desires, too.
As Inside Facebook first reported, Facebook might soon supplement its "like" button with a "want" button that could push the site more toward becoming a place for consumption, rather than social connection, and make commerce a mainstay of the site.
Though rumors about Facebook's plans to introduce a broader suite of buttons have circulated for months, eagle-eyed Facebook developer Tom Waddington has spotted the most compelling evidence to date: a short tag -- " < fb:wants > " -- in Facebook's code suggests the social networking site is prepping a new plugin to enable users to tell friends they're lusting after products online.
"The button is not publicly listed among the other social plugins on Facebook’s developer site. Waddington says the button will only work on Open Graph objects marked as 'products,'" writes Inside Facebook.
Asked about Waddington's find, a Facebook spokeswoman told The Huffington Post, "We're always testing new Platform features, however we have nothing new to announce."
The "desire-based data" Facebook could collect from such a feature would be a big boost to the social network's effort to become an advertising partner for big firms looking for a big audience. With U.S. advertising growth slowing to a third of its levels last year, a boost looks to be just what Facebook needs. A "want" button could inject commercial intent into the baby photos and status updates being shared on the social network, potentially paving the way for users to buy goods, from TV shows to teddy bears, directly through the site.
Knowing what consumers "want" is the holy grail for advertisers, who could theoretically use that information to target Facebook users in real-time, reaching them a split second before they buy a competitor's product or customizing messaging based on what items they covet (combined with all the other personal data Facebook has compiled). For example, if I "want" a pair of Puma running shoes, Nike could instantly bombard me with ads for its own sneakers in a bid to win my business.
Next to "want," a "like" appears downright meaningless. "Like" doesn't imply a user intends to take any action. "Like" doesn't get people to throw temper tantrums in the aisle of a supermarket, or blow their paychecks at Barney's. That's all "want." Want implies consumers are going to do something -- like buy a product.
But do Facebook users really want to shop where they socialize? Facebook recently revamped its payments system to allow people to shop using their own currency, rather than with Facebook Credits (an online currency of Facebook's invention) and renting movies, buying clothes and downloading music via the social network can't be far away. Still, it remains to be seen whether users will open up our wallets -- and their "wants" -- when their entire social circle is potentially watching.
The Atlantic's Megan Garber argues that we don't want to know about each other's wants: "I care much more about what my friends are reading and listening to and watching than I care about what they're coveting at Crate and Barrel. Of all the categories that signal desire and activity, commercial cravings are among the least valuable to users," she writes.
But the success of Pinterest, which according to some estimates just overtook Tumblr as the third most-popular social networking site, suggests otherwise. By and large, the photos pinned to Pinterest showcase the meals, clothes and homes its users lust after. It's a social network for want.
And the stats show there's a close link between "wanting" and "buying:" Shopify, an e-commerce platform that helps over 25,000 online retailers sell their wares, found that the average Pinterest user spends twice as much as a Facebook user per purchase.