Facebook: The Next Big Data-Analytics Platform?

Despite semi-regular controversies over privacy controls, Facebook now holds data related to the lives of roughly 900 million people. But as suggested by the roller-coaster ride of Facebook’s stock price in the week since its IPO, some investors and analysts are very publicly questioning whether the social network can successfully monetize those users.

Those same pundits feel that Facebook’s road to rising revenues (and profits) lies in its ability to successfully exploit mobile devices for advertising revenue. But Facebook could have an alternative route: offering up its massive stores of data for analysis.

Both The Atlantic and The Wall Street Journal have cited a recent paper examining the connection between Facebook’s GNH index (that stands for gross national happiness, a metric assembled by Facebook’s data team) and stock-market prices. The paper’s author, a Frankfurt graduate student named Yigitcan Karabulut, found that an uptick in GNH could translate directly into a significant stock bump. (The Atlantic offers a link to a PDF of Karabulut’s paper.)

“Facebook doesn’t provide its happiness data in real time, however, and given Mr. Karabulut’s findings, why should it?” Justin Lahart, the Journal’s blogger, wrote in his May 25 posting. “If its ability to make money using its data to deliver ads falls short, it always can set up a proprietary-trading desk.”

Leveraging Data

Half-jokes about Facebook playing the stock market aside, there’s still the possibility (however far-fetched in practice) of Facebook leveraging other data-stores in the service of any company looking to slice, chop and dissect massive amounts of demographic and marketing information.

Cloud and analytics companies are already rushing to leverage Facebook. Earlier this week, Oracle announced plans to acquire Vitrue, a “cloud-based social marketing and engagement platform” whose flagship products allow organizations to create and manage Facebook landing pages with specialized apps and modules. (Financial terms went officially undisclosed, although TechCrunch asserted that Oracle had paid some $300 million for the property.)

Other companies such as Salesforce have likewise looked to Facebook as a way to further parse customer information and stay ahead of trends. If Facebook started acting more like a big-data purveyor in addition to an advertising platform, it would radically change the game for those cloud and B.I. vendors that rely on it in some way for data—but whether in a positive or negative way remains to be seen.

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