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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.
Sprint’s Virgin Mobile Goes iPhone-Only in Relaunch (Jun 22, 2017)
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.
Some YouTube Advertisers Still Staying Away (Jun 21, 2017)
Uber Adds Tipping and Makes Other Driver-Friendly Changes (Jun 20, 2017)
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.
Ex-Apple Engineer Chris Lattner Leaves Tesla After 5 Months (Jun 20, 2017)
Apple Adds New Claims to Qualcomm Lawsuit (Jun 20, 2017)
Google announced its Jobs search vertical last month at its I/O developer conference, but it’s now actually launched the feature live for users (this is a good example of how launch announcements are often vague or completely silent on the point of timing, and it’s always worth checking that detail). The search feature works pretty much as you would imagine, for now at least merely aggregating search listings on existing big job search sites, though there’s no guarantee Google won’t eventually seek to disintermediate the legacy players and do more of the heavy lifting itself. After all, if users are already coming to Google for search results, why not encourage employers to list directly on Google over time? It’s also worth noting that Google has been reported to be working on a recruitment service for companies, for now decoupled from the Google search engine, but clearly a potential fit with it in time.
Netflix Announces Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Shows for Kids (Jun 20, 2017)
IDC Forecasts Strong Growth for AR and VR Headsets, with VR and Commercial AR Biggest (Jun 19, 2017)
Any service which becomes central enough to its users’ lives eventually has aspects which become essentially intimate to the user: what feel like private places where the user feels extremely comfortable, and where intrusions of content, ads, or other unwanted outside elements feel like a violation. I suspect users’ own playlists on Spotify feel like just such a place to its loyal users, and so the news that Spotify is testing a “Sponsored Song” ad unit in which songs are literally placed into users’ playlists should be concerning. Almost every ad-based business model eventually engages in such violations, either temporarily or permanently, because the drive is always to push the boundaries of ad load and the places where ads can show – the most valuable real estate is also often the most invasive, and each ad platform has to draw its own line between what is and isn’t acceptable in the pursuit of ad dollars. Spotify’s recently leaked full results for 2016 show that its ad-based business is loss-making even on a gross margin basis, while its subscription business is profitable on that same basis, so there’s always going to be a push to squeeze more ad revenue out of each user. I’ve recently finished a piece for Variety which will publish in the next couple of weeks in which I argue that Spotify should in fact ditch its free tier and go subscription-only, because of all the tradeoffs the ad-based business forces, especially in its relationships with labels. But these types of encroachments into what should be sacrosanct aspects of the user experience are another example of the risks of the free tier, especially relative to the small rewards – just 10% of Spotify’s revenue in 2016.