Facebook Announces New Data-Mining Thank You Cards

Facebook announced a new feature/product/data mine called Say Thanks today, which lets people send cute, heavily Facebook-branded video slideshow thank you cards to each other. In public. It may have been announced prematurely, because the link to facebook.com/thanks isn’t working as I write this, but maybe it’s up for you by now.

Here’s Facebook’s example video: (trigger warning: cloying corporate sentimentality)

Because I can’t try it yet, I can’t tell you whether you get to change the hideous music or customize anything about the Facebook-iness of these videos. The answers to those questions will probably be the most significant factors in whether or not people use this feature. (If yes, yes. If no, no.) But regardless of the experience of using Say Thanks™, the implications of it are the same.

You can, you realize, already create thank you videos and post them on your friends’ Facebook profiles. You just open your phone’s camera, say thank you to your friend, and upload it to Facebook. There are plenty of applications that will help you easily make photo montages, videos, or combos thereof, at least as fancy as Facebook’s Say Thanks example, but with distinction and personality. Apple’s iMovie, for example, is free, easy to use, and way more powerful than Facebook’s little Say Thanks gizmo. Given all that, why would Facebook bother with this product?

As usual with companies that give away ad-supported software, the answer is multi-layered.

The top layer is that Facebook wants to promote gratitude and nice feelings on its social network. That’s nice, right? Can’t argue with that. Facebook is just making it easier to show appreciation for people. And honestly, while Facebook’s relentless drive to turn private social signals into public ones is often ethically yucky or worse, exposing social networks to public displays of gratitude is pretty much all the way on the good side of the line.

But the deeper layer of why Facebook’s doing this is the same as it ever was. Just like with voting, Facebook wants to brew up a new batch of valuable behavior and sentiment data to mine. It’s not hard to imagine how an ad company would monetize gratitude. People often say thank you by buying presents. Once you’ve given Facebook the explicit gratitude signal, they or their advertisers can start suggesting highly personalized presents that just perfectly, uncannily, eerily represent your relationship with the friend you thanked.

I’m not saying that’s bad, either. I just want people to always notice how Facebook’s mind works.

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