Real gifts for your Facebook friends
Seriously though, how many birthday gifts do you actually manage to sort out these days? Family, other halves (or thirds - no hate here, man), close friends, sure, but I never manage to sort much more than a drink or two for the more acquaintancey of my friends. It's not the financial costs - I'm not THAT much of a poor student - it's sorting out the sub-$15 gift that they will actually like and physically getting it to them. Facebook Gifts, rolling out in the States right now, could totally change this.
We all send millions of "Happy birthday!" messages on Facebook every year. Nobody used to send this many Happy Birthday text messages or emails, Facebook just made it ridiculously easy, so easy you find yourself wishing a Happy Birthday to people you haven't talked to in months. You aren't going to want to spend real money on all these half-friends, but there is a substantial amount of people who I wouldn't mind doing the equivalent of buying a drink for on their birthday - you know, something for around ten bucks. The new gift functionality enables this, in both a public (look at how awesome a friend I am!!!) and private way, letting you buy a friend something small in an instant.
Internet shopping has always let you buy friends presents from the comfort of your laptop, but it required knowing the address of your giftee, as well as tricky timing to get the shipping date near to their birthday. With Gifts, although they don't receive their gift immediately, they do get notified, and they can enter their own address rather than you having to somehow eke it out of them. The gifts market doesn't really look to have anything that good on it yet - but it will grow, I would predict mostly at the lower end. Think chocolates, maybe books, iTunes vouchers eand so on. Of course, the functionality also existed to buy a friend an iTunes voucher (or similiar virtual gift) before this, but that required an email address, something you once again might not have at hand.
Facebook needs to start making some more cash, and this definitely makes sense for that. Using their social graph in a more direct way than just advertising could bring in money pretty fast. And even if it doesn't, they get even MORE data out of you, which is always good. I want Facebook to make money, I think they deserve it, so I hope it works out well for them and I can buy a half-friend something without having to emerge from under my duvet.