An ambitious Facebook data-collection effort is turning up unlikely patterns in members’ interests. Here’s what that means for online marketers – and you.

Ian Lurie, founder and CEO of Internet marketing agency Portent, is looking for 16,000 volunteers to help build a data set that will map patterns of interest among Facebook members.

Already he has used Idea Graph, his name for the data set, to figure out that cyclists are more likely than others to enjoy the cartoon TV show Adventure Time and that people who attend boat shows are more likely to watch extreme sports.

And, yes, Britney Spears fans are more likely to buy colon-cleanse products.

These may seem like random associations. “But there are patterns in all that randomness,” Lurie writes. And those patterns give marketers new paths to find their way into potential customers’ lives.

Lurie’s work shows how two seemingly unrelated interests can be connected by a common thread, a concept he calls random affinity. It could be a goldmine for marketers. 

“The only connection is the fact that an unusual number of people are interested in both,” said Luriek. “If marketers know common interests, it doesn’t mean they’ll be able to sell high-ticket items more often,” she said, “but it does increase rapport with potential customers, helping them to remember the company, and giving the marketer other topics of interest to keep the communication interesting.”

Lurie collected much of his data by placing Facebook ads. Facebook’s precise interest ad function, which homes in on words users have added to their Timeline as opposed to demographic information, makes it easy for him to explore random affinities by showing related keywords when a user considers wording for an ad.

Now he wants to expand the program. First with a more comprehensive look at random affinities on Facebook, then by expanding to other social networks. Lurie is asking people who want to help build his Idea Graph to install a Facebook app that anonymously tracks likes. It’s a rare opportunity to find out what how your unlikely likes line up with those of other people in the Facebook community.