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The world of advertising and the web

Since my earlier post on Ads in and of the web, where I noted how I didn't like online advertising, Facebook has launched Facebook Ads, its online advertising platform. With all of the attention this has received, I've been thinking about how and why we live in a world of advertising, and the ways that this is naturally, but often self-destructively, evolving onto and into the World Wide Web.

First, a little perspective and commentary from others on Facebook Ads:

I like how Marc Canter, in his classic style, just sums up the significance of Facebook Ads (in Ads and Widgets: two battlefields, one solution):

[Facebook's data is] incredibly valuable once Facebook starts redefining advertising. Google's model was hot 3-4 years ago - but Facebook is the shit - right now.

David Weinberger's critique of Facebook's privacy defaults provides a good description and analysis of what Facebook is doing. More good analysis in this vein appears in Ethan Zuckerman's Facebook changes the norms for web purchasing and privacy and Wendy Seltzer's Facebook: Privacy versus cross-context aggregation.

But, Dave Winer puts this all into the bigger picture that I am thinking about, in his When the time is right... post:

Advertising will get more and more targeted until it disappears, because perfectly targeted advertising is just information.

There are a couple ways one might take Dave's statement, but what I started thinking about is how you can't absolutely separate advertising and information. Even "pure" information represents design or intention or even just its own attributes that could be said to be forms of advertisement. Similarly, one could suggest that every advertisement conveys information.

What's at play on the web, however, is the degree to which the web becomes about advertising—or, effectively, becomes a world of advertising, where things exist fundamentally for the purpose of leading you to buy (into) something.

I think one of the most fantastic aspects of the web to-date has been the degree to which it has been about people and people sharing information—that's the kind of world it has been. On some fundamental level, the web has had the purpose of leading you to know more, and to know people more.

So, compare this with popular TV or newspapers whose general design has been towards using people and information for the purpose of advertising (and making money off business, politics, religion, entertainment, etc.). Again, these media have the purpose of leading you to buy (into) something.

What's happening with Facebook, as what has happened with Google and many individual websites, is that they've become more and more about this world of advertising that we know well via TV and newspapers. It's how they work, and their popularity is leading many other sites to follow in their footsteps.

So, to one degree or another, we, the people of the web, through our actions, are going to decide whether we allow the web to become (more) that kind of world of advertising, or not. Do we keep choosing to create and grow the example of the web as fundamentally our world-wide medium of culture, or do we keep choosing to accept the example of the web-for-consumers that defines our online world as being fundamentally about buying (into) things?

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