Facebook: Tell us what you want

Facebook is testing a new feature it calls “Collections,” which allows retailers to place Want or Collect buttons on their Pages so users can save product images in a special Collections profile a la Pinterest. Those images then appear in the user’s news feed if the user is following the company or if a friend interacts with the company’s product. Retailers can also include a link with the photo that connects directly to an e-commerce site.

Facebook is currently testing the program with seven retailers:¬†Pottery Barn, Wayfair, Victoria’s Secret, Michael Kors, Neiman Marcus, Smith Optics, and¬†Fab.com.

Though Facebook is not charging a referral fee at this point the e-commerce feature has obvious monetization implications for the social network, especially if Facebook were eventually to start processing transactions itself.

As I noted in my second quarter wrap-up in July, however, the real long-term value of a Want button for Facebook could lie in making it part of the Open Graph, so that any merchant could stick a Want or Collect button on its own web page, just as they can with the Like button, rather than just its Facebook page. That would allow Facebook to start gathering the sort of broad, rich data on user intentions that Google has leveraged so effectively with search advertising.

Knowing what people want tells an advertiser much more about who its potential customers are than knowing what they like.