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Facebook Gets Nosier Than Ever

Facebook Gets Nosier Than Ever

No need to come up with a brilliant overture to ask for a date -- just use the Facebook Ask button to find out whether the person you're interested in is in a relationship. If you're on the receiving end and aren't interested back -- no need to come up with a lame excuse. Just don't answer. Simple? Sure. Effective? Maybe. It's definitely effective for Facebook, which gets to gather more user data.

By Katherine Noyes
05/20/14 3:53 PM PT

As if it weren't easy and tempting enough already, Facebook recently made it even simpler to pry into your friends' private affairs on the social network.

Specifically, the Ask button -- which already has been available to those seeking more information about many other aspects of a given user's life -- now is an option when it comes to a user's relationship status as well.

"This feature provides an easy way for friends to ask you for information that's not already on your profile," MoMo Zhou, a Facebook spokesperson, told TechNewsWorld. "For example, a friend could ask where you work or for your hometown."

If users choose to answer, the information then is added to their profile.

'You Have the Option of Sharing'

"By default, only you and your friend can see it, and you also have the option of sharing it with others," Zhou said.

While the feature has been available to everyone on mobile and Web "for a few months now" for information such as hometown, workplace, college and book/music recommendations, "we recently began testing the 'ask' button on relationship statuses in select countries, including the U.S.," she added.

The feature is in many ways similar to "Poke," which lets Facebook users prompt their friends or friends of friends for a variety of reasons, including "just saying hello, getting their attention." the site notes. "You can understand Poke at Facebook as to say, 'hey, you! wutsup.'"

Meanwhile, Facebook reportedly is working on a new app dubbed "Slingshot" that in many ways will resemble the popular Snapchat app.

'It's Just None of Your Business'

"I don't really think it's nosy," marketing and social media expert Lon Safko told TechNewsWorld. "I think it will be received by Facebook members equally: Some will answer; some will say, 'there's a reason I set my status that way'; and some will just ignore it."

Overall, though, "I think it's a good idea," Safko said. "If someone is interested in you, it might be nice to have a way to show that."

Most people who don't set their status on a particular point do so "because they forgot," he added. "Many didn't want to commit to relationships that might be questionable. Many feel that it's just none of your business."

'That's a Loss of Ad Revenue'

Now, "Facebook incorporated this new feature so friends can ask if you simply forgot to set it, are done with your current relationship, and if you might be interested in having that conversation," Safko explained. "I think either way, someone who gets an 'Ask' request will see it as a compliment."

The business reality of the matter is that "Facebook and the other social megaplatforms are all trying to steal -- or, be inspired by -- the features of the other platforms," he pointed out.

"Facebook and the others don't want you to switch platforms to tweet or IM, send instant photos, pin photos, or look at video anyplace but their platform," said Safko. "If you leave, if only for a tweet, you may forget to come back, and that's a loss of ad revenue."

That revenue is not to be discounted.

'Tens of Billions Annually'

"The ad revenue on these platforms accounts for tens of billions annually," Safko noted. "We will continue to see everybody taking the best, best features from everybody else to prevent [revenue loss]."

In fact, "Facebook might be testing the waters to see if it could emulate eHarmony or another dating site," he suggested. "All of the other elements are already there."

Meanwhile, Safko concluded, "it's a WHOLE lot better than messaging someone, 'Are you on Facebook often?'"


Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


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