Facebook July 2 made a subtle but potentially powerful play to expand the visibility of its Facebook Pages by suggesting them to the social network's new users.
Facebook Pages are Web pages on the social network that celebrities, public figures, businesses and organizations use to promote themselves and their wares and services. The company is banking on Pages as a major element to power social advertising on the vast network.
There are many ways Facebook users discover new Pages. Facebook recommends Facebook Pages to existing users in the Suggestions column in the right of the homepage.
The Website's roughly 500 million users receive suggestions for Facebook Pages in their search box when they begin typing certain keywords. Facebook Pages also surface in users' News Feed when their friends like Pages or share content from them.
However, these recommendations only work for those users who have an existing network and history of activity on Facebook.
Users starting from scratch on Facebook don't have a network of friends, so they won't immediately see updates in their News Feed or receive suggestions for friends and those of like tastes. Newcomers, of course, have no search history, so there won't be many recommendations for Facebook Pages
To accelerate the rate at which Facebook Pages are discovered, when new people join the site they will see a list of Pages that other people in a similar demographic to them also commonly like, said Facebook software engineer Ziging Mao.
"We want to make sure that the Pages people connect to are as valuable as possible, so we'll only suggest Pages that are posting engaging updates," Mao said in a blog post. "The list of Pages is strictly determined by an algorithm, so none of the suggestions is sponsored and Page administrators can't pay or ask to be included."
He also asked that existing Facebook users help friends new to the Website by suggesting a Page to them by clicking the "Suggest to Friends" link underneath the profile picture on those Facebook Pages.
The move might seem small to the average observer, but it's a bigger deal to those who believe recommendation engines could supplant search in some instances. This is particularly poignant viewed through the lens of Facebook's battle with Google for Web users.
ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick noted about Facebook's latest move:
"User demographics, audience engagement metrics and syndicated feed subscription are each data plays that can change the way software intersects with users. Put them all together and there may never have been a platform that knew so much about people, monitored publisher effectiveness so closely and made subscription so easy for such an incredible number of people."
This is true to a point. One potential monkey wrench in the social recommendation wheel is that they have been oversold today by hype, promise and potential that have largely gone underserved by the average Web user.
If users begin to practice recommendations en masse, it could start a sea change. That will be good for Facebook, but not for Google, whose recommendation capabilities are sprinkled disparately across Web services such as Google Reader and Google Buzz.