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Al Norman

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The Wal-Mart/Facebook Social Genome

Posted: 07/30/2012 6:16 pm

You are what you tweet. And blog. And post. It's part of your social genome.

According to a statement from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, he and his top management team travelled to Bentonville, Arkansas to "deepen" its relationship with Wal-Mart. That's "deepen" as in pockets. But it's also about something called The Social Genome project.

These huge corporations are already fast friends, with crafted, interlocking directorates. James Breyer, for example, a venture capitalist, has been on the Facebook board since 2005, and on the Wal-Mart board since 2001. Last year, Wal-Mart paid Breyer $261,523 in fees and stock options to serve on their board. And Wal-Mart's board in June drafted Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, formerly a VP at Google. Facebook and Yahoo recently unveiled plans to form a "strategic alliance" involving advertising.

Zuckerberg met privately with Michael Duke and the Wal-Mart management team on July 20th. The two giant companies already have a significant financial relationship. In its 2012 Proxy statement, Wal-Mart said it "paid Facebook for display advertising....[and] will continue to purchase advertising from Facebook during FY 2013." No dollar figure was revealed, but Wal-Mart said its paid ads "represent less than 1% of Facebook's 2011 revenues." Extrapolating from Facebook's second quarter advertising revenues of $992 million, Wal-Mart is buying somewhere around $39 million in ads on Facebook.

A deeper Facebook/Wal-Mart relationship could result in a very lucrative agreement considering that Facebook has 955,000,000 monthly users, and Wal-Mart's website has 18,241,227 likes. But Wal-Mart has something more important that Zuckerberg may want: the Social Genome project.

At the end of November, 2011, WalmartLabs launched an application for Facebook called Shopycat, which currently has 18,749 likes--or roughly one-hundredth of one percent of Wal-Mart's Facebook likes. WalmartLabs says The Shopycat app "makes gift giving less stressful and more fun "by analyzing their Facebook activity through likes, shares and posts using our Social Genome technology."

Got that? Wal-Mart is already mapping your social DNA--and Facebook is supplying them with your genome. Shopycat illustrates how the process works using a guy named Joe, who posts a lot about the Red Sox, and whose Facebook "genome" allows WalmartLabs to infer that Joe likes Harry Potter, running, Angry Birds, sushi and yoga. Shopycat then "matches user's interests to a giant catalogue that includes products from Walmart.com."

WalmartLabs defines the "Social Genome" as "a giant knowledge base that captures entities and relationships of the social world." Wal-Mart has spent the last few years building this in-house Social Genome, part public data, part private data, "and a lot of social media." Tweets, Facebook messages, blog posts, You Tubes, its all streaming into Wal-Mart. Streaming in so fast, that WalmartLabs created something they call Muppet, a solution for processing Fast Data, using large clusters of machines. The Labs describes the Social Genome as their "crown jewel."

Wal-Mart's Shopycat is just an inane example of where this social genome matching is going. But it is a warning that the Social Genome project is converting Facebook data into something far beyond a place "to stay connected with friends and family." It turns out that the "friend" you are being connected to is Wal-Mart.

Social networking sites are vast data mines for large corporations like Wal-Mart, who will sift through your posts looking to target you for products based on your genome, or perhaps one day for credit card companies, insurance salesmen, real estate marketers, political pollsters, government security officials, etc. It's already happening.

Your "friends" Zuckerberg, Duke and Muppet, are engaged in what Wal-Mart calls "deep semantic analysis of social media." They want to "deepen" their reach into your electronic make-up, and turn surveillance of your habits, likes, locations, and politics---into a marketable genome.

The writing is on your Wal.

Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters. He has been helping citizen groups fight big box retailers for almost 20 years. His latest book is Occupy Walmart.

 
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