Narrative: Facebook's Power
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Narrative: Facebook’s Power (Jan 24, 2017)
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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.
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.
Facebook Reportedly Working on Messaging App for Kids (Jun 1, 2017)
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