It's all about action data

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Having spent much of the summer completely disconnected in remote parts of the world, I came back to the city with fresh eyes. Returning, in fact, is one of my favorite parts of any trip. It is as if the senses are refined; sights, smells, sounds and human behavior all come under a microscope.

The second wonderful thing about long absences is that one realizes that the world does not come to an end if e-mails go unanswered or phone calls are not returned. Sure, there might be missed opportunities or a slight delay in execution, but in the bigger picture it is all really quite minor. The truth is that I probably waste a good amount of time looking at a handhold device instead of observing the small clues that make up our industry's future.

In catching up with my colleague Morgan in the aisles of Barnes & Noble, the "Social Networking" book section, filled with titles such as "MySpace for Musicians," caught my eye. "How long has this been here?" I asked him. "I don't know," Morgan answered, "But just about every conversation, blog post and article since you left had something to do with Facebook." Hmm, I thought. Just about every conversation before I left had something to do with Facebook. Not much had changed there.

What had changed was the volume of Facebook alerts now occupying my very neglected e-mail box. In just a few short months, real people from my personal and professional lives not only increased their usage of Facebook for communication purposes, but they were rapidly adding new applications.

This is when I realized that Facebook feeds are a brilliant means of observing human behavior. In real time, I can observe what friends, family and colleagues around the globe are doing, what groups they join, what applications they choose, and so on. Some are quite humorous, like the friend who changed his profile picture five times over the course of a few minutes. Others are more interesting, such as the rate at which particular applications are added or removed.

I (and many others) have a sneaking suspicion this same voyeurism is also why the platform is so very popular with its users. We as humans have always wanted to know what your neighbor is building in his backyard, who the ex is now dating, and what your high school friend now looks like. As Jeff Ooi of CNET Asia states, "Facebook satisfies all your Freudian desires in cyberspace."

In a virtuous (or vicious) data cycle, both Facebook and your friends now know more about you than perhaps you realize. So while Google most certainly dominates intention data, it is Facebook that now owns action data.

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