Company / division: Facebook
The key part of this article many seem to have picked up on is the sheer amount of money Facebook is willing to spend on securing original video content – up to $3 million an episode, which is comparable to big-budget cable TV shows. And that’s certainly interesting, though it’s not yet clear just how much content Facebook is willing to commission at that cost level. However, in some ways more interesting is the nature of the content Facebook wants to commission: “Facebook has told people it wants to steer clear of shows about children and young teens as well as political dramas, news and shows with nudity and rough language.” In other words, this isn’t going to be the kind of content the other big original content spenders have focused on, which I’ve pointed out has tended to be mostly rated TV-MA. That’s a reflection of a tricky issue Facebook is going to have to deal with, which is that since it’s not explicitly a video platform, people’s expectations of what they find there are going to be different from, say, Netflix or Amazon. Given the recent controversy over Facebook’s role in elections, politics and news are obviously out to avoid any sense of editorializing, but given Facebook’s existing restrictions on content shared on the site (including nudity), it’s got to steer clear of some other forms of content too. And of course with children under 13 technically not allowed to use Facebook, targeting children doesn’t make much sense either. You might say – as a couple of people did to me this morning on Twitter when I tweeted about this – that that doesn’t leave much else for Facebook to show. But of course US broadcast TV has limits on nudity and swearing, and many of the dramas on network TV would comply with these restrictions and do just fine. And this could actually help set Facebook apart as the original video content hub which prioritizes cleaner stuff.
Facebook Prepping New App for Video Creators (Jun 23, 2017)
News Corp Says Nearing Deal with Facebook on Subscriptions (Jun 23, 2017)
This is really just an update on an earlier piece, which you can also read for free here. News Corp is merely confirming that the talks are in an advanced stage. See that earlier piece for my take on this broad trend, which promises to finally give news publications what they really want from Facebook.
Facebook has today announced a new mission statement at its event for managers of Groups on the platform. The old mission statement was “Making the world more open and connected” and the new one is longer and more specific: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” What’s clear from the way Mark Zuckerberg talks about the change is that he had previously supposed that merely getting people connected and online would be enough to be a force for good in the world, which demonstrates the kind of naïveté about the impact of technology that’s common to many tech companies. The reality is that technology and the Internet in particular are merely tools, which can be used for both good or ill, and it feels like more and more companies in the industry are finally starting to understand this and talk about it. In Facebook’s case, which in reality is Mark Zuckerberg’s case personally, the tipping point appears to have been last year’s US presidential election, in which he first denied that Facebook played any kind of negative role but has now conceded that its effect certainly wasn’t neutral. But we’re also seeing some of this recently from Microsoft, with Satya Nadella again the CEO-standard bearer for being a force for good in the world, with his main focus on AI, as a counterpart to Zuckerberg’s new mantra of community. But Tim Cook at Apple has also been determined to use his company’s resources to effect social and environmental change to a far greater extent than Steve Jobs, and others seem to be drifting in this direction too. That’s a good thing, especially when those leaders are wise enough and not too self-absorbed to see that to the extent that their companies can be part of the problem, they can’t be the entirety of the solution. That’s a bridge Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t yet seem to have crossed, something I first noted in the context of his manifesto from earlier this year, given that he still seems to feel Facebook is the solution to the problem Facebook causes or negative things it enables. As such, his goal to have a billion people be members of what he terms meaningful groups is a goal entirely centered on Facebook and Groups with a capital G. Regardless of whether those people are already members of meaningful groups such as neighborhoods, churches, service organizations, families, or others in real life, the only thing Zuckerberg wants to measure is how that activity is reflected on Facebook itself. As such, though Zuckerberg definitely seems to be evolving and maturing in his views on the impact of technology in general and Facebook in particular, he still has some way to go.
Spotify Puts Collaborative Playlists in Facebook Messenger (Jun 21, 2017)
Spotify has launched collaborative playlist creation in Facebook Messenger by way of an “extension” (Facebook Messenger’s apps with its app). This will allow multiple friends to work together to populate a playlist even if some of them don’t have Spotify accounts of their own. That in turn turns Spotify into something of a music layer within Facebook rather than merely a proprietary service, and once again raises the question of whether Facebook would ever want to buy Spotify outright and integrate it more tightly into the Facebook experience. Facebook has so far entirely sat out the music market, doing the odd partnership here or there but never becoming a serious player, even though social features are often touted as one of Spotify’s strengths and an important feature for music services overall (though I have to add that a survey I ran a couple of years ago suggested social features are actually well down the list of the most important features users look for). At any rate, this looks like a neat addition to Spotify’s feature set, as well as a useful integration for Facebook Messenger, and a good showcase of what’s possible in Messenger now that the original bots vision has been replaced by something a bit more realistic and focused, with all the user interface elements needed to power something like this.
Today’s Instagram announcement is ostensibly about the launch of live video replays, a new feature that allows users to save their live videos for 24 hours as an Instagram Story. However, the part most outlets I’ve seen have focused on is the announcement of 250 million daily active users for Instagram Stories as a whole, which is naturally being compared once again with Snapchat’s overall user numbers. That’s always a bit disingenuous because comparing a single feature in an app with 700 monthly active users with daily active user numbers for a standalone app isn’t a like for like comparison – some large number of people who regularly use Instagram as an app might occasionally dip into Stories without ever posting one, while the average Snapchat daily active user spend sover 30 minutes in the app every day, suggesting a very different level of engagement. But this is the inevitable comparison, not just because the Stories feature was copied from Snapchat but also because its launch seems to have come at just the time Snapchat user growth slowed. The reality is that Facebook’s reach is now such across its many apps that it can easily launch new features and services and have them reach this kind of scale, and in the process eat into the time spent in other apps, but I don’t think anyone at Facebook would suggest that Instagram Stories by themselves generate nearly the engagement of Snapchat as an app, and even Instagram as an app likely only generates the same engagement and time spent as Snapchat among a minority of users. But that doesn’t mean Instagram Stories isn’t a huge hit for Instagram and a great way to neutralize the ongoing threat presented by Snapchat as a competitor, especially among the demographics where it hasn’t yet gained wide adoption.
Facebook Solicits User Feedback on How to Tackle Issues Like Censorship and Terrorism (Jun 15, 2017)
A while back, Facebook said it would be soliciting user feedback on its policies for moderation and censorship around thorny issues like terrorism and freedom of speech, and it’s now putting a program in place to begin doing this in earnest. It has listed some of those thorny questions on its website and also launched its first debate, on terrorism, separately. On paper, getting user feedback on these issues seems a great way to absolve itself from the role of arbiter or gatekeeper of what’s allowed on Facebook – it’s also said in the past that it wants to be sensitive to local cultural norms around these things rather than having a single global policy, which seems sensible. But the most likely outcome is a range of views expressed and real division around some of these issues, which means Facebook will still have to come down on one side or the other, and will now do so explicitly going against the stated views of many of its users. This is definitely a double-edged sword. In addition, as we’ve seen from the recent FCC comment process around net neutrality, such large-scale public feedback projects are easily hijacked by groups, so Facebook will have to work hard to sift the wheat from the chaff here. On balance, I think this is a positive step, but I worry that it will be really tough for Facebook to execute on its vision here without dealing with some real challenges in implementation.
Facebook has been doing a great deal to reach out to news publications recently and let them know that it has their interests at heart, something which has occasionally been in doubt. However, despite all the soft enticements it’s offered to get publications to work with Facebook and use its Instant Articles feature, the big thing publications have wanted is a business model other than advertising, namely subscriptions. It sounds like Facebook is now working on that feature, which would allow users to pay for subscriptions to publications from within its apps. Apple News, of course, already offers that options, but it’s been a closed rather than open platform so far and though I was expecting it to open up more in iOS 11, there’s no word of that so far from Apple. I would guess Facebook would start with a narrower program too and open up somewhat over time. So although this is good news for whichever pubs get included in the first round, many will likely have to wait even longer. But this is a good first step in giving news publications something they probably want more than anything else from Facebook right now.
Instagram is apparently cracking down on some of the third party services which exist to artificially inflate follower counts by generating automated likes and comments on other accounts. Several have apparently shut down recently and blamed their closures on Instagram policy decisions, and it appears Instagram’s recent focus has been on these third party services rather than on user accounts that make use of them, which is both more efficient and better for PR – any attempt to target actual accounts risks false positives and a big backlash. But both Instagram and Twitter continue to suffer from a problem with not just what we might call artificial growth but accounts which are entirely automated, usually in order to push products off Instagram itself. Just in the past couple of weeks, my private account has had follow requests from half a dozen clearly pornographic accounts, and although Instagram has shut each one down relatively quickly, the identification of such accounts needs to happen more proactively.
Facebook Reportedly Working on Messaging App for Kids (Jun 1, 2017)
Back in December, four big US Internet companies signed a voluntary code of conduct with the EU under which they agreed to improve and accelerate the removal of hate speech from their platforms. Now, the EU is reporting good progress on those goals, with twice as high a percent of offending content removed, and Facebook and Twitter removing substantially more content within the first 24 hours, while YouTube slipped a little in this regard for reasons that aren’t clear. As Facebook has discovered, policing content is an expensive and labor-intensive task at the best of times, but having external standards set like this raises the stakes even further. The big risk in the EU and specific European countries is that this moves from voluntary codes of conduct to actual laws with significant consequences for non-compliance, so the big US companies are wise to do what they can to play nicely to try to ward off such outcomes.
I’m generally a skeptic of proprietary or customized forms of web publishing because I believe they create extra work for publishers, which in turn takes us back to earlier eras when smaller publishers weren’t able to compete with larger publishers on a level playing field (this is something I’ve written about in detail here). But they also have other objectionable aspects, including making some very powerful companies more powerful. Facebook’s Instant Articles is a great example of all that, and it’s struggled to gain momentum in part because it’s not clear to most publishers that it actually helps them make more money than simply linking out to their sites, and in part because it doesn’t support any kind of payment method today. Facebook’s Journalism Project, on the other hand, is supposed to address some of publishers’ frustrations, and as part of Facebook’s response to those frustrations, it’s tweaking its SDK for Instant Articles to add support for the Google-led AMP format and eventually also for Apple News. That could help assuage concerns about having to publish in four different formats separately (FB IA, AMP, Apple News, and the web), but it’s obviously only helpful to those publishers big enough or tech-savvy enough to work with an SDK and a custom CMS to feed it. And it does nothing to address the very real monetization issues or the sense of loss of control that has caused some publishers to pull back from Instant Articles lately. This feels like an inadequate bandaid rather than a real solution. Above all, Facebook needs to bring on the monetization tools pronto.
via Facebook Media