Company / division: Facebook
We’ve known this was coming for a while, but there are a couple of extra wrinkles here. First up, let’s get the obvious out of the way – yes, this is another example of Facebook copying Snapchat, although at this point it’s also copying itself, specifically with regard to the presentation of Stories within the Facebook app, which is very similar to what it already does on Instagram. The good news is that it’s avoided the heavy-handedness that characterized its launch of the Stories equivalent My Day in Messenger and to a lesser extent the equivalent Status feature in WhatsApp – this feature is more subtle and slots in at the top of the app a la Instagram, which should lead to less of a backlash from users. One of the weirdest new features here, though, is a new direct message feature, which is an odd Google-like doubling up on messaging given the existence of the Messenger app. There are some other unique features, but several of them feel different for difference’s sake rather than being valuable or more appropriate for the Facebook setting than Instagram, and I’d expect at least some of them to make it into Instagram Stories in time. To take a step back, though, this is an entirely logical next step given the success of Instagram Stories: the latter has over 150 million users out of a monthly active user base of 600 million, while Facebook has a total user base three times that size, meaning it could bring the feature to many more people. And of course, in the process it’s likely to further dent Snapchat’s growth, which continues to be one of the biggest question marks over its long-term trajectory.
via The Verge
After the London terror attack, a top U.K. official says Facebook needs to open up WhatsApp – Recode (Mar 27, 2017)
This is a worrying (though not altogether unexpected) resurfacing of the arguments from early 2016, when the FBI was trying to get into an iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters. In this case, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd (whose role has no direct counterpart in the US, but is responsible for domestic law enforcement and counter-terrorism among many other things) has made calls for WhatsApp to “open up” and specifically referred to encryption. That’s because WhatsApp was allegedly one of the apps used by the terrorist behind last week’s attack in London, though there’s no evidence yet that he used it to plan the attack or coordinate with others. The bigger issue, as with last year’s Apple-FBI fight, is of course that once the government can get in, there’s no guarantee others won’t use the same methods, whether that’s because of hacks like the one that hit Cellebrite a few weeks ago, or exposures of government tools like the Wikileaks CIA hack. Encryption is a fact of life at this point, and essential for secure communication and protection of privacy for millions of law-abiding users, and no government back door can solve the law enforcement problem without also compromising that essential function. And the Rudd quote in the closing paragraph of this story suggests she doesn’t actually understand the FBI-Apple situation at all, which is not surprising from a government official but worrisome nonetheless.
There’s not a ton here that’s new about Apple and Facebook’s efforts, but the article does share some new details about Magic Leap, which is said to be getting ready to launch this year at a price point north of $1000. As I’ve said before, for all the complaints from Magic Leap that people are underestimating its technology, until it actually shows more than a few hand-picked people, those complaints are unreasonable. This is a company that has massively hyped its own product (including releasing rendered rather than actual footage) while refusing to share any actual details about its product. There certainly are people (some of them investors) who appear to be very impressed by it, but not until it launches will mainstream tech reporters and others know whether the product lives up to the hype. In the meantime, other companies like Apple and Facebook are ramping up their efforts, and even though Magic Leap may well beat them to market, it’s a small company with no brand recognition, and it will have to blow people away en masse if it’s to take a meaningful lead in the market when it launches.
Google introduced its own location-sharing feature last week, but Facebook’s is far more limited – it works within the context of a Messenger interaction, and only for an hour at a time, which feels a good bit less prone to accidental over-sharing. It also feels more useful in the messaging context, where you’d be likely to share messages with someone about meeting up, than in a Maps app, which might mean dipping out of a conversation to check the location (even if it might be useful when meeting at a new spot). As I mentioned last week, it’s interesting to see location sharing making a comeback when both Google and Facebook had previously backed away from this kind of thing over privacy concerns – that suggests a certain confidence over privacy issues that wasn’t there a few years ago, although both companies still seem to be approaching this more narrowly than in the past.
Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and YouTube are bidding to stream the NFL’s Thursday night games – Recode (Mar 24, 2017)
When Twitter won these rights last time around in their first year as a separate set from television rights, it turned out to be something very different from what many of us expected. Rather than a massive splurge on a very valuable set of rights, it turned out that the winner merely got the right to show the games along with advertising mostly already sold by broadcasters, meaning there was very little additional revenue opportunity, and as such Twitter got the rights for a paltry $10 million. These NFL games have actually been a good fit with Twitter’s overall live strategy, which has mostly been focused on winning audiences rather than lots of new revenue, but it seems others are interested in taking another crack this year. It would obviously fit well with Facebook’s recent push into professionally produced live video, but also with YouTube’s recent investment in e-sports rights and with Amazon’s foray into TV bundles and Twitch video streaming. It’s less of a good fit with Apple’s current focus in the TV space, so it’s not surprising that its name doesn’t appear here. I’ll be very interested to see if the NFL is pitching the same kind of package as last time or whether the winning bidder will have the right to sell more of its own ads this time around.
With all the fuss about Facebook cloning Snapchat features, it’s worth remembering that not everything Facebook adds to its products is a copy of Snapchat, and this is a good example of adding features that owe more to Facebook’s core product than anyone else’s app. Given the backlash against the My Day feature added recently, it’s somewhat brave of Facebook to add yet more features (and potentially clutter) to Messenger, but these features look like they’ll add value too. And perhaps help to distract from the negative response against My Day.
I’ve changed the headline here to get at what I see as the key takeaway from this data, which is that social media is absorbing other forms of media consumption on phones. As standalone categories, multimedia, news, IM, and so on show up further down the list, but of course social media – by which I suspect we mostly mean Facebook and to a lesser extent Snapchat, Instagram and so on – increasingly includes those things. That’s where that consumption now increasingly happens, rather than in dedicated apps for consuming news, video, and so on. I’ve argued for a while now that Facebook is these days as much a content hub that happens to rely heavily on friends for the content rather than merely a social network, and to me this data confirms that.
Instagram has had buy buttons and other e-commerce features for a while now, but it looks like it will be adding an appointment booking feature soon too, in another attempt to allow company accounts to turn viewing of pictures into actual business. It’s been fascinating to watch how Instagram has been able to turn something as simple as a photo stream into something much more like a shop window for brands, something that was inspired at least in part by how certain merchants in emerging markets were using the platform even before Instagram added these features formally. The headline here mentions Yelp as a target, but of course many of these businesses themselves compete with Amazon and other big online retailers, and so these features also enable smaller businesses to punch somewhat above their weight in that fight.
Facebook’s Building 8 working on camera, augmented reality, mind reading projects – Business Insider (Mar 20, 2017)
This is an interesting roundup of signals about what Facebook is working on in its advanced hardware projects group, which is named Building 8. The most interesting part of the article in some ways is that Facebook might show off some of this stuff at its F8 developer conference next month, which I’ll be attending. The whole point of a division like this, though, is to try to do hard things, which means many of their efforts will fail, and ultimately even many of those which succeed might not be built by Facebook. Though Facebook does now have an explicit hardware product arm in Oculus, it just doesn’t strike me as a company well placed to make a big hardware push, so I’d expect a lot of what this group develops to be proofs of concept and prototypes, with the technology open sourced, spun off, or otherwise made available to other organizations to build and market. There will be some exceptions that end up being built into things like Oculus, but I suspect – as with Google’s similar ATAP group – we won’t see many actual Facebook hardware products come out of Building 8.
via Business Insider
The ANA represents 1000 large advertisers including many of the largest companies in the US, so what it says definitely counts for something when it comes to advertising policy. And in this case it’s saying that it wants other big tech companies to submit to outside audits alongside Facebook and Google, who have already committed to do so. Strangely, Instagram is on the list anyway, alongside other independent names like Twitter and Snapchat. There really seems to be increasing pressure from advertisers for transparency and consistency, and this was one of the themes of P&G exec Marc Pritchard’s talk a few weeks back in which he called on the ad industry to do better on several fronts.
My Techpinions column today argues that Facebook has recently been trying too hard to force new features on users, and needs to tone things down. That’s mostly been the case in the Facebook-branded apps, but this WhatsApp change a while back was another example of replacing something users liked with something Facebook wanted them to use. The good news here is that the backlash wasn’t nearly as bad as with last week’s My Day launch in Messenger, and the company is already rolling back the change while preserving the new feature as well. It’s interesting, though, that both My Day and this Status change in WhatsApp were essentially clones of the Snapchat Stories feature which had previously worked so well for Facebook in Instagram. This cloning has been a story for some time, but the way Facebook is now pushing it on users is starting to backfire, which is a particular shame because the Instagram version was handled so well and has performed well too.
Facebook’s new ‘Town Hall’ feature helps you find and contact your government reps – TechCrunch (Mar 15, 2017)
This Town Hall feature from Facebook feels like a natural outgrowth of some of the things Mark Zuckerberg talked about in his recent manifesto. My big worry about that manifesto was that, while it acknowledged some of the problems that had grown out of Facebook’s increasing power over our lives, it seemed to think the solution was more Facebook, not less of it. This tool, for now, looks like a positive step, in that it merely helps connect people in the US with their local and federal representatives – so far, so good. But in the context of some of the things in Zuckerberg’s manifesto about Facebook facilitating new forms of local democracy, I worry that the company has bigger plans for the platform which would insert Facebook more directly into the democratic process. Definitely worth watching closely.
Facebook’s livestreaming strategy looks a lot like Twitter’s livestreaming strategy – Recode (Mar 14, 2017)
In my Techpinions Insiders post last week, I wrote about Facebook and Twitter’s respective live video strategies, and argued that this is one area where Twitter might actually be executing on the better strategy, namely focusing on existing high quality live video rather than trying to force user-generated content. This piece today confirms the conclusion of my piece in which I said Facebook should probably be doing more of this kind of thing. However, I also said that it was still unclear how well Twitter was monetizing the video it was licensing, given that most of the ads had already been sold by the original owners. The other challenge, as this piece makes clear, is that the video owners willing to partner with Twitter in this way are mostly those either with small audiences they’re keen to grow, or whose distribution isn’t the primary way they monetize, which tends to mean it isn’t the best or most exciting live content available. Meanwhile, the most compelling live video – major sports – remains largely off limits to online-only broadcasters. That’s not to say Facebook couldn’t bid for NFL rights as Twitter did last year, but those Thursday night games are such a tiny slice of the overall sports schedule in the US that it’s hard to see how it could be a central plank of an overall live video strategy.
The timing of this new data from eMarketer is perfect, because I just wrote a piece for Techpinions subscribers today about the battle for third place in online advertising. The reality is that Facebook and Google have been dominant for some time in this space and that shows very little sign of changing. As I argued in my piece this morning, some of the big Chinese names are actually the strongest contenders for third place on a global basis, but they mostly operate only in China, so it’s largely other US companies which are competing in the rest of the world, and they’re all pretty small in comparison to the big two. Between them, Google and Facebook appear to have search and display advertising pretty well sown up, with only the crumbs left for other players, who largely have to compete among themselves rather than having any prospect of taking meaningful share from the big two. As I also pointed out this morning, though Snapchat gets lots of attention, it’s currently behind even Amazon, let alone other bigger names like Microsoft and Yahoo, and will have to wait years to break into the top five. Meanwhile, Twitter is a cautionary tale about even once promising companies stalling before they reach their perceived potential.
In a sense, there’s really nothing new here – the key quote comes from the S-1/A filing from a month ago. The article, though, argues that Snap will make money from higher ARPU over time rather than from user growth. While it clearly won’t be going for user growth in emerging markets for the reasons stated in its S-1/A, I don’t read that as not being focused on user growth – it clearly will be but that focus will be on mature markets, where it still has tons of headroom, at least in theory. It’s worth noting some other things here: Kurt talks about Facebook as the comparator, and it’s clearly the obvious one, but Twitter is another. And whereas Facebook has now reached a nearly $20 ARPU in the US quarterly, Twitter has stagnated at around $6-7 over the past year. Just because Facebook was able to keep growing ARPU seemingly indefinitely, that doesn’t mean Snapchat will be able to. And I’d argue that with such a simple, non-stream-based interface, Snap probably has far fewer places to put ads, meaning its ceiling is likely quite a bit lower than Facebook’s. It’s also worth remembering that Facebook’s ARPU numbers are at least a little misleading – the user number is only for the core Facebook app, whereas the revenue number includes Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger too. Lastly, part of rising ARPU at Facebook is price per ad, not just more ads shown, which is a reflection of new demand outstripping new supply, something else that’s not guaranteed with Snapchat. Overall, I’d be very wary of drawing too many conclusions about Snapchat’s potential from Facebook.
This feature has been in testing since September, but is now rolling out globally. As I’ve said previously, Facebook has done much better in cloning Snapchat successfully since it stopped trying to recreate the entire app and focused instead on features, with Instagram Stories being the standout example. It’s now rolling out Stories in various ways in its separate apps, with Messenger second to go global, and the core Facebook app likely coming next. And why not? Though I think it’s a little distasteful to see Facebook copying Snapchat so blatantly, it certainly appears to be working, and taking a feature used by a competitor with 160 million users and making it available to ten times that many seems entirely logical.
Just a quick one here to document yet another “borrowed” feature from Snapchat in Instagram: this time, geostickers. No sponsored stickers yet, but given how hard Facebook is currently pushing to find new ways and places to serve up ads in its various properties, those can’t be far behind. The geostickers are pretty limited for now, but no doubt they’ll also spread in time. This doesn’t feel like one of the most important missing pieces in Instagram’s feature set, but no doubt it’ll help Snapchat converts feel a little more at home once it rolls out more fully.
Just when Facebook seems to be making progress with news organizations, it does something like this: reporting the BBC to the police for “sharing” child pornography in an effort to push Facebook to take the content down. The BBC’s reporting here is just vague enough that it’s possible that the images that weren’t taken down despite being reported really don’t contravene Facebook’s policies, but this certainly isn’t a good look for Facebook, which should be doing everything it can to stamp out child pornography and images of child abuse on the site, rather than obstructing investigations into it. And it certainly shouldn’t be doing ridiculous things like reporting journalists to the police under such circumstances.
via BBC News
Facebook is on a big listening tour for local media — and publishers are actually happy – Mashable (Mar 6, 2017)
When Facebook announced its Journalism Project a few weeks ago (and hired Campbell Brown to take a leadership role within it), it said all the right words about wanting to partner with news organizations and help them be successful. But the problem with platforms like Facebook and Google is those promising words have often rung hollow as they’ve subsequently pursued initiatives and products which ended up threatening rather than helping the media industry, and news sites in particular. It’s heartening, then, to see that Facebook seems to be engaging in a fairly genuine way with news organizations, and actually listening to them and their concerns. This article also suggests that these organizations are responding positively to some of the new ad options Facebook is introducing (though of course it remains to be seen how Facebook users respond to things like a higher ad load in Instant Articles and mid-roll video ads). It’s early days still, but there are at least some signs that Facebook means what it says about partnering in healthier ways with content partners.
There’s some really good reporting here, and it reinforces my sense that Facebook’s live video push hasn’t panned out the way it would have wanted despite its massive investment. I continue to believe that mass market live video has very limited appeal, largely because most of us don’t spend most of our time in situations which are worthy of (or appropriate for) broadcasting to our hundreds of friends. Yes, there are occasions when user-generated live video is uniquely placed to offer something no other medium can, but those are rare and not the basis for a widely used mainstream product. It’s still intriguing to me to see Facebook push so hard for individuals to share and consume amateur video, while Twitter has balanced its Periscope investment with a focus on high quality professional live video, including sports – easily the most compelling form of live content around for most users. This is one area where Twitter’s strategy feels smarter than Facebook’s, and it’s therefore not that surprising that Facebook seems to be experimenting more with live sports video as well.