A couple of years ago, Mark Zuckerberg had a hypothesis that the next area of social media to “blow up” would be social commerce.  A ton of hype was generated around the potential direct eCommerce opportunity within Facebook and manufacturers rushed to create “e-shops” inside the giant social network.

Unfortunately, many of the new stores on Facebook’s brand pages didn’t work well for several large, “traditional” retailers.  By Feb 2012, we learned that the Gap and JCPenny (among others) were looking to close their F-Commerce shops. 

So, while deep discounts and branded special offers may get folks to buy directly inside Facebook,  it seems that people (for the most part) are still more comfortable completing their final eCommerce transaction via credit card on a brand’s “owned” website property.

All about the Intention Economy?

Though direct Commerce transactions may not be working super well just yet, Facebook has proven that it is good at getting people to interact and share.  And, it is really good at capturing data across the web and via 3rd party Apps (see the Open Graph).  Facebook’s role in social commerce as a shopper intent data collector has the potential to be huge over time.

Doc Searls, in his excellent new book The Intention Economy, discusses how shoppers online will eventually move beyond action buttons (e.g. “Like”) and exercise their consumer power by broadcasting their intent via a sort of online RFP (Request for Proposal).  In the Intention Economy, the buyer will notify the market of his/her intent to buy and then sellers will compete for the buyer’s purchase.

While RFPs are not yet happening within Facebook, the giant social network is making a move to learn more about our intent as shoppers online.

All about the data.  Facebook as a shopper intent data owner

Beyond the “Like,” brand website owners are already being asked to add new action buttons giving shoppers the ability signal their intent to friends back in the Facebook world via Newsfeed, Ticker and Timeline.  Examples include:

Want, Love, Own, Need Advice, Smile, LOL, Gimme, Need, I Can’t Wait to Wear, Ask a Friend, Have, and Try.

I’m sure that this is just the start of a number of new initiatives via their Facebook Open Graph to drive deeper into our lives across the web.   Brands will likely join Facebook’s effort if social sharing leads to more traffic and conversions.  Companies like 8th Bridge are already working on platforms to help brand use these action buttons to drive social sharing (and ultimately social commerce).  Facebook stands to make loads of cash from selling our data and collaborating deeply with advertisers.

Can Facebook become a trusted 4th party or have they gone too far?

Party of Doc Searls vision of the intention economy involves “fourth parties” that protect a consumer/shopper and act on his/her behalf within the intention economy.  Personal.com is an early form of this type of company.   Fourth parties collect our intent, but instead of broadcasting it broadly and selling it to advertisers, they look out for the consumer and their interests on the web.  If, as Mark Zuckerberg states in his SEC filing letter, Facebook is trying to be a force for good and social change, won’t they be looking to help consumers transparently understand how and when their data is being used to drive ad sales?  Could Facebook actually pivot and evolve into a real trusted 4th party over time?

What are your thoughts on the Intention Economy and Facebook’s ability to play in the space?