Company / division: Facebook
One of the biggest complaints of creators when it comes to Facebook’s video platform has been that copied and pirated versions of their content frequently garner lots of views on the platform without accruing any revenue for the original creator. Facebook has been slow to take these videos down, partly because it hasn’t had a great system in the past for identifying them (though that’s now starting to change), and as a result the damage has often been done by the time it fixes things. Facebook is now going to allow the original owners to claim the pirated videos and then receive the royalties from them, which should help assuage those concerns somewhat. But of course ideally Facebook would shut the infringing videos down in a timely fashion so that the original owner could receive the views in the first place, because this issue isn’t just about what for today are fairly minimal video ad revenues. It’s also about the original channel capturing the views and thereby growing its audience. Hopefully having the content identification technology in place will give creators the option to do that. I’m also guessing this won’t help with the live video copyright issue Facebook also has.
Facebook Expands Messenger Lite to 150 More Countries (Apr 27, 2017)
It’s hard to avoid the sense that Facebook is trying to rain on Twitter’s parade here. It’s announced that Instagram now has 700 million monthly active users, up from 600 million in December, which means it’s added 100 million users in just a little over the time it took Twitter to add nine million. It previously announced that Instagram Stories has 200 million users, up from the 150 million it had shared earlier, and attributed the growth in the core Instagram user base in part to an improved signup flow. But Instagram has also benefited from strong adoption in emerging markets, including Brazil, which is its second largest market after the US, with 45 million users. That’s in marked contrast to Snapchat, which has emphasized primarily mature markets on the basis that emerging markets users have more constrained and expensive bandwidth and would be less likely to use a visually intensive app like Snapchat. And of course Facebook’s other apps continue to grow rapidly too: Messenger and WhatsApp are now both over 1.2 billion, while the core app will likely hit 2 billion in the next quarter or two.
Facebook is Now Paying Companies to Produce Non-Live Video (Apr 22, 2017)
Also today at F8, Facebook overhauled its Messenger Platform, which launched last year, and went as far as to call it Messenger Platform 2.0. That kind of separation from the version launched a year ago is smart, because the first round was ill thought out, with the vision for bots both too expansive and not nearly detailed enough. In the year since, Facebook has made a lot of progress, and the version of bots it now offers to developers is much more compelling and better suited to the kinds of things it will be used for. Facebook is also getting better at serving small and medium sized businesses, which continue to make up an enormous chunk of the total base of businesses in many markets. That’s important because these businesses represent the biggest future opportunity for Facebook advertising, which is already well penetrated among larger enterprises. I’m still skeptical that bots have broad appeal beyond a few specific categories, but it’s starting to look like Facebook has cracked at least some of what it will take for bots to be successful in those categories where they do make sense. And it’s less religious about bots as full-fledged experiences now, too, which means that other flavors of automated, semi-automated, and human-driven interactions can live side by side more seamlessly, which is smart.
I’m at Facebook’s F8 today and one of the two big announcements from the first day keynote is this Camera Effects Platform, which is Facebook’s first big push into AR. That’s a good thing, because Facebook has so far made its big bet on its narrower cousin, VR, through Oculus. AR has the potential to be much bigger, and Facebook getting into this space will only accelerate adoption and awareness. Sensibly, though, I don’t think any of this will be described as AR in most user-facing settings – it’ll have more user friendly names like Camera Effects, Frames, and so on. But building a platform for AR experiences including some pretty sophisticated ones means Facebook is finally serious about AR both from a first-party and developer perspective, which is a good thing. The stuff shown off on stage today looked much cleverer than what Snapchat launched this morning, and although it won’t all be available right away I suspect Facebook is actually going to be ahead here, especially when it comes to the rear-facing camera. In fact, there’s a possible scenario in which Snapchat continues to do AR better for the selfie camera, while Facebook provides better AR experiences for the outside world. More broadly, this means Facebook will now be a serious player in a field which includes not just itself an Snapchat but also Microsoft, and will soon include Magic Leap, Apple, and many others too. There are therefore big questions to ask about who will be able to attract developers and help them get a return on their investment with good monetization. I would expect to see some similar stuff from Apple at WWDC in June and possibly even more in September with new iPhone hardware too.
Instagram Adds Folders for its Bookmarking Feature (Apr 17, 2017)
Facebook Takes 3 Hours to Remove Video of Murder (Apr 17, 2017)
A Facebook user apparently committed a murder on Sunday and claimed to be in the process of committing several more while streaming on Facebook Live video, but Facebook failed to take the video down for three hours afterwards. This certainly isn’t the first time something gruesome has been live streamed on Facebook, and the company has dealt with past situations both poorly and inconsistently. On the one hand, it’s clearly against its policies to broadcast something as disturbing as this, so taking the videos down should be simple from a policy perspective. But in some cases, it’s been accused of taking down videos which – despite their content – were enormously newsworthy, and therefore engaging in censorship. In this case, it seems baffling that Facebook didn’t take the video down much sooner, but it raises much bigger issues about how to police live video, which by definition has often done its damage before anyone at Facebook is even aware of it. Given YouTube’s recent struggles with monitoring non-live video for inappropriate content, one can only imagine the challenges involved in monitoring video in real time. Certainly, Facebook needs better tools for flagging such content and faster response times when videos are flagged, at the very least.
Update: Facebook has now responded, and says it’s going to do exactly what I said in that last line: that is, improve its flagging tools and shorten response times. It also posted a complete timeline. Worth a read.
Facebook Messenger now has 1.2 billion users, its second messaging app to hit the milestone (Apr 12, 2017)
Facebook’s business model for Messenger won’t be payments and commerce but advertising – Recode (Apr 11, 2017)
This isn’t a huge surprise – on the one hand, we’ve already seen Messenger start to introduce ads, and on the other though there’s been some payments and commerce activity within Messenger it’s been clear for some time that it wouldn’t be a major money spinner for Facebook. But it’s interesting to hear this straight from David Marcus, who runs Messenger, because Facebook had been at least a little more opaque on this topic in the past. It’s also been increasingly evident that Facebook has been looking for more places to squeeze ads as it reaches ad load saturation in the core product, and Messenger is an obvious place to do that. But a messaging app is also the place where advertising feels most invasive and least native, because it gets in the way of your most personal conversations with the people you care about most. That’s a risk, and Facebook is going to have to tread carefully here to avoid turning off users as it pushes ads in Messenger. (Incidentally, it’s worth noting that Facebook has just announced a group payment feature, so even though payments aren’t going to be a source of revenue or profits, as this article says they’re nevertheless an important feature of Messenger.)
There’s some good reporting here about publishers starting to pull their content back from Facebook’s Instant Articles. When it first launched, I think publishers were at the very least keen to experiment with it, and in many cases felt they had little choice but to participate out of fear that non-IA content would be deprioritized by Facebook’s News Feed algorithms. That publishers (including the New York Times) are starting to pull back is a sign both that the format is underperforming badly and that content owners have confidence that they can buck Facebook’s first party platform without negative consequences. That’s a good counterpoint to all the stories about Facebook’s power and how little choice content owners have about publishing to Facebook natively. It remains to be seen whether these publishers will see the same monetization and traffic now as they did before IA debuted, because if that’s the comparison organizations are making they may be disappointed. But all this also explains why Facebook has been working so much harder lately to cater to news publishers in particular, with its Journalism Project, new calls to action and subscription (though not paid subscription) options, and listening tours. It’s clearly worried that it’s losing the battle here and needs to do more.
Facebook is using a milestone of 5 million advertisers to talk about its efforts to attract small and medium-sized businesses as customers, and it appears Sheryl Sandberg has been doing the rounds talking to various publications about the effort. They key points here are that this number has been growing rapidly – up from 4 million last September and 3 million just over a year ago – and that it’s still just a fraction of the 65 million businesses that have Pages on Facebook. Facebook’s big advantage here is that building websites is the sort of thing no small business wants to do because it’s either hard or costly (or both) to build and maintain, and the results often aren’t that great anyway, so using a Page instead has enormous advantages – it’s easy to build and maintain without any technical knowledge, and it’s in the place where your customers likely already spend a lot of time each day. Adding very targetable advertising on top is therefore an easy sell for businesses who already use their Pages as one of their main ways to attract and communicate with customers, and much of Facebook’s growth over the last few years has come from getting deeper and deeper into that base of companies already using Facebook to promote themselves organically. Twitter, by contrast, has suffered recently in part because it hasn’t been able to break through into this segment and therefore has had to focus on the larger advertisers rather than enabling a much longer tail of more automated buying by smaller businesses, hence its very high sales and marketing cost relative to revenues (over a third of revenue vs. 13-15% at Facebook over the past year).
Instagram Stories has been a huge hit, in part because it taps into the same instincts that have driven Snapchat’s massive success: it allows people to share photos and videos in a way that’s more casual and therefore more natural. It’s therefore smart that in advertising the feature in a global campaign, that’s one of the elements the company is focusing on. But an out-of-home campaign like this also suggests Instagram wants to attract new users to the feature and to Instagram, not just ride its existing base in growing adoption of Stories. Note that this story quotes the same 150 million user number we’ve seen for Stories in the past from Facebook – when it reports financial results for Q1 in a few weeks, it’ll be worth looking for an update on that number, to see whether it’s stagnated (or whether growth has slowed).
Update: on April 13th, Facebook announced that Instagram Stories now has 200 million, so looks like growth is still going strong.
This is the first real quantification we’ve had of live video which puts it in context of Facebook’s overall video volumes, and on the face of it looks pretty good. For one fifth of all video shared on the platform to be live is impressive. On the other hand, I’m not sure how much video I see shared on Facebook by my own friends, but it’s not that much, so perhaps between regular users and brands and so on that makes a certain amount of sense. I’d be far more curious to know what percentage live makes up of video consumed on Facebook, because I suspect that’s a far smaller number, and arguably that number matters a lot more than what’s uploaded. After all, Facebook only really benefits from the viewing end of the equation.
Facebook seems to be taking its responsibility to help police fake news ever more seriously, and today announced another step in that effort: showing users a popup card at the top of their feed which offers to teach them how to spot fake news. I’d love to think this could make a meaningful difference in people’s ability to discern truth from error, but realistically the kind of people who most need this training will be least likely to click on it, in part at least because Facebook’s previous efforts in this area have been seen as partisan rather than neutral by those most likely to read, believe, and share fake news. But it’s good to see Facebook trying, and it may at least give some more moderate users pause before they share fake news on the site.
This change was reported by The Information a while back but has now been confirmed by Facebook: the M hybrid human-virtual assistant Facebook was testing last year has now been released in a much reduced and entirely AI-based role inside of Messenger. That makes a ton of sense and it sounds like Facebook has been successfully testing this feature for a while with positive user response. The only worry I’d have is that it could be seen as invasive or intrusive, both in the sense of invading users’ conversations uninvited and in the sense that it will appear to be “listening” to users’ conversations for key words and phrases that will trigger that intervention. Privacy isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing – everyone has their own preferences and tolerances for the tradeoffs online services can sometimes entail – so I’d expect to see a range of reactions from delight to outrage.
via The Verge
If Facebook had to choose between a huge backlash against the way a feature was rolled out and general ambivalence towards it, I’d guess it would choose the latter. That seems to be happening now with the version of the Stories feature in the core Facebook app, despite the massive popularity of the equivalent feature in Instagram, and in contrast to the negative response to the versions Facebook launched in Messenger and WhatsApp. The good news here is that Facebook rolled the feature out much more carefully and subtly, though this new wrinkle of showing faded versions of the profile pictures of friends who haven’t used the feature is a sign that Facebook may be starting to turn up the dial a little on promotion, though it’s an odd way to go about that. Hopefully Facebook will be smart enough not to force the issue by over-promoting it in obnoxious ways as it did with live video in the core Facebook app or with My Day in Messenger. Again, far better to have a feature fall a little flat than turn users off entirely.
via The Verge
This is probably about as much as Facebook can be expected to do on an issue such as this – there’s no easy definition for revenge porn as such, and therefore no way to train a computer to look for it, so the only way Facebook can police it is to match images being shared with ones it’s been told about in the past. That’s obviously far from solving the issue, but it’s a start and should help with cases where the same images are being shared over and over.
via The Verge