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Facebook turns pollster in search for cash

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Facebook's top brass have been at the World Economic Forum in Davos, punting another way to try to turn their enormous database of personal information and trivia profitable.

Like last year's disastrous "Beacon" advertising scheme, which aimed to turn members into Tupperware-style product endorsers, Facebook's latest wheeze isn't particularly innovative. Executives at the loss-making firm plan to charge brands for carrying out polls of their users.

The system will tap the well of personal information pumped into Facebook by members, allowing corporations to target members in specific age groups and locations, and with specific interests.

There's no word on what this service will cost the marketing department at Global Omnicorp, but according to Randi Zuckerberg, sister of founder Mark, they're super-psyched about it. "I had tonnes of people saying 'this could be so incredible for our business'.

"It takes a very long time to do a focus group, and businesses often don't have the luxury of time. I think they liked the instant responses."

Facebook is apparently aware that in attempting to sell its users, it has to sell them as people worth paying to access. "The vast majority are not just college students in the US talking about things in their bedrooms," Randi Zuckerberg said. "We are showing how we are a serious and insightful community."

Demonstrating that seriousness and insightfulness, Facebook asked 120,000 US members whether they believe Barack Obama's complex fiscal stimulus plans would work. Almost 60 per cent of the selected swivelchair economists said they wouldn't.

Insightful. It's like normal market research, then, except a bit quicker, and with worse sampling methodology. AT&T has signed on to trial the polling system, separate to another commercial initiative dubbed "Engagement Ads", which Facebook has been tinkering with since August.

The pressure on Facebook to show a return on the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in its storage and bandwidth is growing. The recession is likely to reduce the rates social networks are able to charge for ad space, already lower than other online media because users click more rarely. ®

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