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March 11, 2015

Facebook Opens Its Own Private Firehose

Alex Woodie

Facebook yesterday unleashed a new data offering that will, for the first time, allow third parties to access aggregated and anonymized data about the online activities of Facebook users. Called “Topic Data,” the service is only available to select American and British companies via Facebook’s partner DataSift.

As Facebook explains in a blog post, the new data service will allow marketers to see what Facebook users are saying about events, subjects, brands, and activities, for the purpose of helping them better market their products on Facebook and other channels.

There are many potential uses for Topic Data. Facebook gives the example of a company selling hair de-frizzing product. With Topic Data, they “can see demographics on the people talking about humidity’s effects on their hair to better understand their target audience.” It could also be used by a fashion retailer who wants to understand what the target audience is talking about to make decisions about which product to stock.

This type of data has been available from third parties before, Facebook says. For example, the Facebook Graph API surfaces the public Facebook posts that match a given query. However, these other methods often are inadequate for large-scale marketing activities. “The sample size was often too small to be significant and determining demographics was nearly impossible,” Facebook notes in its blog.

Now, through its partnership with DataSift, Facebook is offering to give customers data about all of the activity around a given topic–stripped of the identifying bits, of course (and not including any data from Messenger, its online chat service). “That means marketers get a holistic and actionable view of their audience for the first time,” the social media giant says.Topic Data

DataSift has become one of the leading providers of curated social data feeds. The company currently has partnershps with more than 20 social media news, and blog networks, and counts more than 1,000 customers of its “Human Data” platform.

“The partnership with Facebook leverages DataSift’s technology to aggregate and deliver summary results from topic data, enabling developers to build innovative marketing applications that surface insights into what audiences are saying on Facebook,” Nick Halstead, the founder and CEO of DataSift, says in a blog post.

Halstead says DataSift created a new API within its platform called PYLON to allow customers to access the Facebook data. According to DataSift, PYLON will cull data from both public and non-public posts, include engagement data (such as likes, shares, and comments), and analyze links and hashtags. Demographically, the PYLON API will give marketers access to more than 60 attributes, such as gender, age range, and self-declared location.

The data will be anonymized, of course, so marketers won’t be able to use DataSift’s PYLON to engage in direct or targeted marketing to individuals. To be made available, aggregated data must be based on the posts of at least 100 individuals. “This ensures no individual can be identified based on data returned,” DataSift says.

Considering that, every day, there are billions of posts, likes, and comments made on Facebook, one would think there would be plenty of data to summarize through PYLON. This aggregated data should be enough to give marketers a detailed look at the big picture around specific topics or products.

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