Facebook Reportedly Wants To Tighten Its Grip On Your News

25 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Eyeing News, Messaging Changes.

Social networking website Facebook is reportedly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies such as BuzzFeed, The NewYork Times and National Geographic to convince them to host their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.Facebook is likely planning additions to its site that change its messaging and news content services, which may also funnel more customer data to media companies.Facebook is mulling a change to how it delivers news across its platform, reportedly engaging in talks with outlets including Buzzfeed, National Geographic and the New York Times over the possibility of hosting entire articles in site rather than simply linking out to them. Through this third-party format, consuming news digitally will not only become faster but will also allow publishers to feature targeted marketing alongside their content.

Industry watchers say that news websites are keenly aware they are less likely to draw high levels of traffic to their articles without Facebook’s help. “Facebook isn’t just another platform. More often than not, we tend to gloss over them, especially when browsing on mobile, since the 3G connection is rather patchy to open them up all together. These stories would look somewhat like a normal news story in a user’s News Feed, but instead of sending users to NYTimes.com servers, they’d send users to Facebook’s own. It required clicking links to third-party media websites, whose pages were slow to load, riddled with ads, and often failed to match the promise of their clickbait headlines. Hosting content directly on the site, however, could mean more advertising directed at customers who access the news content, and will likely increase Facebook’s ability to gain important consumer data about its users, says Brian Blau, a research director at Gartner market research firm. “With deeper partnerships you can imagine there would be more back and forth going on with the data about these users,” Blau says. “That is what these content companies trade in.” Facebook has faced “trust issues” in the past from users concerned about how their data on the site is analyzed and shared, but the company has worked to address such concerns in recent years, Blau says.

Facebook is looking to sweeten the deal either by sharing some advertising revenue with the publishers, or allowing publishers to sell some of their ads on content that runs within Facebook. The report added that Facebook is planning on testing the new format in the next several months. “Facebook has said publicly that it wants to make the experience of consuming content online more seamless.

News articles on Facebook are currently linked to the publisher’s own website, and open in a web browser, typically taking about eight seconds to load. But the ultimate solution was the one Carr laid out: Facebook would simply host news’ sites content on its own platform, then share a slice of the ad revenue that resulted. Facebook thinks that this is too much time, especially on a mobile device, and that when it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter,” the NYT report said. I wrote in depth in January about Facebook’s plan to cut out the middle man, explaining how it might work and why publishers would feel compelled to participate. Direct messaging services are an increasing focus for the social network after its launch of the Facebook Messenger app last year and its $19 billion purchase of WhatsApp, so the site will likely announce expanded features for games and mobile payments.

The idea seems similar to what Twitter offers since the links tapped on Twitter’s mobile application open in the application itself rather than opening as a link in a new browser. At the time, Facebook had just published a blog post encouraging publishers to post videos natively on its platform, so that they could play automatically in users’ feeds. (Facebook’s algorithms heavily prioritize native video posts over, say, YouTube videos.) But I predicted that we’d eventually see Facebook nudge media outlets to post full news stories directly to Facebook as well—perhaps by “late 2016.” That prediction suddenly looks far too conservative. The news of a deal in the works has been public to some degree since October of last year, when the late Times reporter David Carr wrote that the arrangement would turn media companies into “serfs in a kingdom that Facebook owns.” And Facebook has exerted enormous influence on online journalism since at least August 2013, when it first tinkered with the algorithm that controls its News Feed to start sending oodles more users to news sites. And it looks like the company is playing serious hardball with some publishers, with Facebook referral traffic mysteriously plunging at certain websites. Moreover, publishers will lose out on important reader data such as the number of times they visit the website, their behavioral pattern in consuming news etc to Facebook.

There are no expectations for any gaming announcements related to virtual reality company Oculus, which Facebook bought last year for $2 billion, although the firm may launch a consumer model of its Oculus Rift video game immersion goggles this summer. Instead of paying attention to Facebook’s braggadocio about creating a “seamless experience” for users, think about what even seeking such a deal admits. At Fusion, (Slate contributor) Felix Salmon warns that news sites risk sacrificing their brands—and, in the process, their incentives for accuracy and editorial judgment—by handing Facebook control of their distribution. Justin Smith, the CEO of Bloomberg Media, said in February that, “the list is a lot longer than is publicly known of those that have Facebook delivering half to two-thirds of their traffic right now.” There are a number of scary prospects for media companies here. The deluge of attention from Facebook is something that news organizations have little negotiating power against: Either they will welcome it and will invest on it, or they’ll miss out.

That’s when Steve Jobs approached the major labels about selling their music through Apple’s own platform. “This is the publishing industry’s iTunes moment,” Yurow wrote. “And we’re blowing it.” (Yurow’s views, he noted, do not reflect those of his employer.) It’s easy to see why BuzzFeed would go along with this. Unlike most news sites, BuzzFeed doesn’t make money by running ads alongside its stories but by creating custom ads that are essentially stories in their own right. What if, let’s say, in the economic downturn of 2018, Facebook—having absorbed the lion’s share of digital news distribution—simply dictates the next terms of revenue-sharing with news orgs, becoming a de facto Walmart of News? In how many scenarios does Facebook become a hard negotiator, and in how many does it become a benevolent supporter of a broad and bustling American press?

Or consider the following scenario: Facebook selects a couple news organizations and asks them to invest heavily in a native tool that gives news stories—news stories!—an unprecedentedly high-ranking in users’ feed. Personal recommendations count for a lot when they come from friends, acquaintances, ex-coworkers, and, yes, even former classmates in whom your interest is macabre voyeurism. But that means Facebook is essentially a weaponized form of word-of-mouth — certainly valuable to publishing companies, but still at bottom a referral service, not a technological or social revolution. And so if they could all get together and decide, as a group, what to do about Facebook, no doubt they’d think long and hard about the long-term sacrifices elucidated by Salmon, Battelle, and Yurow. In September 2011, Facebook announced at its big annual developer conference that some news organizations had made “social reader” apps, which highlighted their content in the News Feed.

Opt-out or engagement numbers must have indicated that social readers—which Facebook launched in partnership with news organizations—were disliked by Facebook users. Meanwhile, the holdouts would see their Facebook audiences wither and die, as Facebook’s algorithms gradually downgrade posts that link out to third-party websites. Soon all evidence of the readers were gone—and with it, the miraculous traffic. (Although there was some debate over how to interpret the data at first, the trend proved real, and news organizations shifted their efforts elsewhere anyway.) From what we can tell, Facebook is asking news organizations to publish directly to the site because it will increase user engagement. One fewer second spent waiting for an article to load is one more second Facebook could be showing you ads—and that translates, at scale, to an incredible regained revenue opportunity. If anything, once Facebook started using those lists to spam your newsfeed with advertisements from movie studios, you likely started deleting them, or at least “hiding” those posts from your timeline.

Even the referral business can be broken away in bits and pieces by Twitter, Digg, professional aggregators, and even the astonishing return of personalized email newsletters. Just Monday, Facebook and Vox published a case study showing how Vox’s willingness to shape its content around Facebook—including posting native videos there—has brought it huge audience gains. Why do this when advertisers are starting to figure out that junk-clickbait content is a worthless commodity business, and when raw traffic numbers impress them less and less? At least apps on Apple’s IOS and Google’s Android give your own tech teams more flexibility and functionality for presenting your work, with more options than are available on the HTML-and-JavaScript-confined web. And there is every reason to believe that Facebook can fall apart just as MySpace and Friendster did, even after its astonishing rise to over one billion users.

When confronted with the emotional and intellectual refuse that floats around Facebook, people would rather curl up with a great magazine, a funny online quiz, or a nice story.

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