Facebook Reveals its Master Plan – Control All News Flow

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 1.36.09 PMIn recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

The new proposal by Facebook carries another risk for publishers: the loss of valuable consumer data. When readers click on an article, an array of tracking tools allow the host site to collect valuable information on who they are, how often they visit and what else they have done on the web.

And if Facebook pushes beyond the experimental stage and makes content hosted on the site commonplace, those who do not participate in the program could lose substantial traffic — a factor that has played into the thinking of some publishers. Their articles might load more slowly than their competitors’, and over time readers might avoid those sites.

– From the New York Times article: Facebook May Host News Sites’ Content

Last night, I came across an incredibly important article from the New York Times, which described Facebook’s plan to provide direct access to other websites’ content in exchange for some sort of advertising partnership. The implications of this are so huge that at this point I have far more questions than answers.

Let’s start with a few excerpts from the article:

With 1.4 billion users, the social media site has become a vital source of traffic for publishers looking to reach an increasingly fragmented audience glued to smartphones. In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

Such a plan would represent a leap of faith for news organizations accustomed to keeping their readers within their own ecosystems, as well as accumulating valuable data on them. Facebook has been trying to allay their fears, according to several of the people briefed on the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were bound by nondisclosure agreements.

Facebook intends to begin testing the new format in the next several months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, although others may be added since discussions are continuing. The Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal, one person said.

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. 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 Huffington Post and the business and economics website Quartz were also approached. Both also declined to discuss their involvement.

Facebook declined to comment on its specific discussions with publishers. But the company noted that it had provided features to help publishers get better traction on Facebook, including tools unveiled in December that let them target their articles to specific groups of Facebook users, such as young women living in New York who like to travel.

The new proposal by Facebook carries another risk for publishers: the loss of valuable consumer data. When readers click on an article, an array of tracking tools allow the host site to collect valuable information on who they are, how often they visit and what else they have done on the web.

And if Facebook pushes beyond the experimental stage and makes content hosted on the site commonplace, those who do not participate in the program could lose substantial traffic — a factor that has played into the thinking of some publishers. Their articles might load more slowly than their competitors’, and over time readers might avoid those sites.

And just as Facebook has changed its news feed to automatically play videos hosted directly on the site, giving them an advantage compared with videos hosted on YouTube, it could change the feed to give priority to articles hosted directly on its site.

Let me try to address this the best I can from several different angles. First off, what’s the big picture plan here? As the number two ranked website in the world with 1.4 billion users, Facebook itself is already something like an alternative internet where a disturbing number of individuals spend a disproportionate amount of their time. The only thing that seems to make many of its users click away is content hosted on other people’s websites linked to from Facebook users. Other than this outside content, many FB users might never leave the site.

While this is scary to someone like me, to Facebook it is an abomination. The company doesn’t want people to leave their site ever — for any reason. Hence the aggressive push to carry outside news content, and create a better positioned alternative web centrally controlled by it. This is a huge power play move. 

Second, the New York Times righty asks the question concerning what will publishers get from Facebook for allowing their content to appear on the site seamlessly. Some sort of revenue share from advertisers seems to be an obvious angle, but perhaps there’s more.

While Facebook isn’t a huge traffic driver for Liberty Blitzkrieg, it isn’t totally irrelevant either. For example, FB provided about 3% of the site’s traffic over the past 12 months. This is despite the fact that LBK doesn’t even have a Facebook page, and I’ve never shared a link through it. Even more impressive, Facebook drove more traffic to LBK over the same time period than Twitter, and I am very active on that platform. So I can only imagine how important FB is to website editors who actually use it.

This brings me to a key point about leverage. It seems to me that Facebook has all the leverage in negotiations with content providers. If you’re a news website that refuses to join in this program, over time you might see your traffic evaporate compared to your competitors whose content will load seamlessly and be promoted by the FB algorithm. If a large percentage of your traffic is being generated by Facebook, can you really afford to lose this?

One thing that FB might be willing to offer publishers in return other than advertising dollars, is increased access to their fan base. For example, when I try to figure out through Google analytics who specifically (or what page) on Facebook is sharing my work, I can’t easily do so. Clearly this information could prove very useful for networking purposes and could be quite valuable. *Note: If there is a way to know which specific Facebook page traffic is originating from please let me know. 

Given the enormity of what Facebook is trying to achieve, I have some obvious concerns. First, since all of the leverage seems to reside with Facebook, I fear they are likely to get the better part of any deal by wide margin. Second, if they succeed in this push, this single company’s ability to control access to news and what is trending and deemed important by a huge section of humanity will be extraordinary.

Looking for some additional insight and words of wisdom, I asked the smartest tech/internet person I know for his opinion. It was more optimistic than I thought:

This could be a huge shaper of news on the internet. or it could turn out to be nothing.

Other than saying that I don’t really know how to predict what might or might not happen, and I sort of don’t care much because it is in the realm (for now at least) of stuff that I don’t read (mainstream news), on a site that I never see (Facebook). However, the one thing I wonder in terms of the viability of this is whether in the end it may drive people away from FB.

Back in the day, probably when you weren’t so aware of the nascent net, there were two giant “services” on the Internet called Compuserve and America Online. They were each what you are thinking that Facebook is heading toward; exclusive, centralized portals to the whole net. They were also giant and successful at the time. Then people outside of them started doing things that were so much more creative and interesting. At the same time, in order to make everything fit inside their proprietary boxes and categories, they were making everything ever more standardized and boring. Then they just abruptly died.

*The awesome thumbnail photo at the top of this post is by Polish illustrator Pawel Kuczynski. Check out his site here.

For related articles, see:

Facebook Does it Again – Company Sends Funeral Home Advertisements to Cancer Sufferer

A Very Disturbing and Powerful Post – “Get Your Loved Ones Off Facebook.”

Meet the 77th Battalion – The British Army is Mobilizing 1,500 “Facebook Warriors” to Spread Disinformation

Freedom of Speech? Boston Mayor Bans Bad Mouthing of Olympics, as Facebook Will Filter Out “Fake News”

Why You Should Think Twice Before Using Facebook’s Messenger App

Was the Department of Defense Behind Facebook’s Controversial Manipulation Study?

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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7 Comments

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  1. I have no use for facebook. I don’t like it and it doesn’t like me. If they want to publish the propaganda on facebook, it makes very little difference to me. I don’t read mainstream.

  2. Gone In Eight Seconds

    Key takeaway: In today’s media driven environment, eight seconds is too long to wait for news and information content to be delivered to you. Eight seconds is just too damn much of a pause in the non-stop, never resting phantasmagoria of modern virtual life to invest in.

    Won’t it be great to read how NATO is holding military exercises a few yards from Russian borders while we alternate with gorging ourselves on the lunchtime musings of our semi-literate friends?

    JH Kuntsler was right. We need signs that say “I Am Michael Brown” to distribute to the losers who want to speed things up so they can cram yet more inanity into their sterile lives.

    Charlton Heston said it best in Planet of the Apes: “Damn you! Damn you all to Hell!”

  3. I couldn’t agree more. Bravo!

  4. The point of Facebook is to take back the Internet for the bad guys. It is to create a controlled, privacy-less, government/”corporate” dominated web that recruits victims by using natural human tendencies such as the powerful urge to communicate, or to find friends, or to stay in contact with family and so on.

    FaceBorg (you will be assimilated) may as well be nationalized and regulated like the BBC or something. At least it would be clear what Facebook is really about and why it has been so favored by the authorities over other social and networking sites. What exactly was wrong with MySpace and the others?

    The idea of Facebook is for those who compulsively crave power over humanity to regain the power of computing that Steve Jobs and others took away by promoting and sustaining the notion of a personal computer rather than a police-state, bomb-developing, bureaucractic, big-corporate, or even small-business or geek-hobbyist computer.

    For those who can remember, computers were, according to authorities, not for personal uses. A creature of the boring state-favored type of corporations, the guy who ousted Jobs at Apple back in the 80’s still says that Jobs was crazy to even think that people would have any use for a computer in their homes, not to mention a personal computer that people can carry around. Maybe this kind of guy still has his emails printed out and delivered, or read to him by his servants.

    As the creator who brought us the NeXT computer, the first server of the Web, it’s too bad Jobs, who called Facebook “onerous” but to please customers accommodated it, did not come up with a choice and privacy respecting version of social networking to oust FaceBorg, instead of allowing money to be thrown at Maps which Google was doing well enough already. Now Facebook is putting up drones, supposedly to provide Internet even to the electricity-less masses. Better to have had Jobs’ idea of a satellite system rather than repurposed (“?”) spy and assassination devices.

    Facebook thrills the would-be masters very much, so if pleasing them gives you the thrill of being a slave, please use Facebook all the time for everything you do in formerly “personal” computing or on the Internet. Maybe you will even rant about this message by using Facebook to comment.

  5. How is this a big deal?
    Objectively, Facebook is no different from any other online computer game. If the background music in WorldOfWarCraft changed, would it be news?

    Facebook divides the computer-literate population into 2 distinct classes of groups: stupid and smart.
    Who cares how stupid people get their news? Let them keep playing their stupid computer games.

  6. If you thought Facebook was ever free or was there for your purposes, think again. It was, and will be, just one more level of control. User beware!

  7. Are we all so lazy that we can’t get to our favored news sites on our own? We need a link from FB to do so? I definitely don’t want FB curating what news I should read!

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