Media Perspective: Facebook is likely to be more popular with a 'like' button

Do you like this column? I hope so, but I have no way of knowing. I'm too scared to look at what people comment on the online version. And though I do get the odd nice e-mail, they're normally about something tangential.

I assume Campaign has some sort of informal way of determining how liked it is but every week I anticipate a call saying: "Thanks, Russell, but we don't need your stuff any more, no-one likes them."

And I couldn't argue, I have no idea whether they'd be right or not. So you can see why "like" buttons are popular on the internet. Sometimes they're hearts or thumbs-up but it's a broadly established practice to allow people to easily declare that they like something. You can imagine how useful that might be.

And, of course, if you know something more about who's doing the liking (demographics, habits, other things they've liked), then the data turns into gold-dust. In fact, just you wait, as soon as all the digital backchannels have been built out, you'll be getting "like" data on your TV commercials and posters as well. Scary.

But what's more scary is who's going to own all that data and that's why there's been a lot of hoo-ha about Facebook this week.

It has done a very smart and savvy thing - introduced an easy way for anyone to put a "like" button on its website, which any of the 400 million people on Facebook can use without any extra sign-up or logging in. And which enables all of those people to see what their friends have previously liked on that site. In one masterstroke, Facebook has made itself central to a widely distributed social web and the holder of tons of enormously useful data.

And, for many people, Facebook has instantly made the web more useful, social and convenient. A lot of marketing companies will be delighted too - because they're going to be able to access lots of that liking and profile information and use it to communicate with their customers in lots of different places.

But, for a lot of other people, this is all rather concerning. First, they might want to keep their Facebook activity confined to Facebook; they might not want to share it as broadly as the system allows. And while opting out is possible, it's not obvious.

Second, do we want a single company to dominate this type of information so completely? Both as users and media buyers, we might be anxious about there being one company holding so much information about behaviour and preferences on the web. Already, alternatives such as "OpenLike" are being mooted but they're going to have to go some to overturn Facebook's 400 million user advantage.

I wonder if we'll all like liking after all.