Filtrate 13/2015 – Facebook and the Publishers

Facebook wants to host original content by publishers like the NY Times and Buzzfeed. We’ve been following the story the whole week and have collected the most interesting tidbits and insights.

Filtrate is a blogging format inspired by Matt Webb and Michael Sippey: “Start a new draft post on Monday, dump things in it over the week, rewrite and cull along the way, what’s left gets published on Friday.”

1.

It has been on the horizon since last autumn and this week, the NY Times officially anounced it: Facebook May Host News Sites’ Content

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.

The official reason for Facebook to do this: speed and user experience:

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.

Yeah, right…

2.

Joshua Benton from Niemanlab about Facebook’s true motivation:

Facebook controls a huge share of the traffic publishers get — 40 percent or more in many cases. Combine that with the appification of people’s online life — the retreat from the open web toward a few social-media icons on your phone’s home screen — and you start to get at the motivations here. Facebook has fallen into the role of audience gatekeeper for many publishers, and it’s offering (!) to optimize that relationship.

And the current publishers dilema:

The game for traditional publishers now is all about short-term/long-term tradeoffs. Of course, in the long run, you want to control the customer and advertiser relationships. But today, in 2015, Facebook controls a large share of your audience and has user data you have no hope of matching.

3.

John Battelle gets much more criticial and poses a couple of questions that publishers should ask themselves before hosting their content on Facebook.

  • Do you have full and unfettered access to reader data? Will Facebook have access to your customer data?
  • Do you have full and unfettered control over your advertising relationships and data? Will Facebook have access to that data?
  • Do you have certainty over the levers of circulation marketing, including the price of reader acquisition and engagement?
  • Do you have control over your core product, so you can craft your reader’s experience as an expression of your brand?
  • Do you have any proof that publishers using another company’s proprietary platform have ever created a lasting and sustainable business? He sums up his perspective like this: I can’t really think of any publisher who thrived on someone else’s platform, for the reasons I laid out above. Sure, a lot of apps have done well, but in the main they were either hit businesses (gaming) or free services that kept their customer and revenue models well away from Apple or Google’s grasp (everybody else ever).

4.

But Battelle also see some differences between publishers like the NY Times and companies like Buzzfeed.

Which brings us to BuzzFeed, which has taken a delightfully inverse approach to platform economics — that is to say, it embraces the distribution of its content independent of its home base. Of course, it can do so because its core revenue model is native advertising content, which is distributed in the same fashion as original editorial content. This model suits BuzzFeed very, very well.

So for Buzzfeed this deal with Facebook makes a lot of sense because their business model is in the content and the audience it reaches as Felix Salmon describes:

BuzzFeed has built its business model around its ability to ensure that any piece of content, whether it’s a cat listicle or an ad or a news story, reaches as much of its intended target audience as possible.

Which means that Buzzfeed – unlike the NY Times – isn’t dependent on its brand and that lets them benefit much more from deals that will get them bigger audiences for the price of less brand perception.

5.

This is the appropriate time to dig up the great essay The Next Internet Is TV by John Herman on The Awl from the beginning of February.

The prospect of Facebook, for example, as a primary host for news organizations, not just an outsized source of traffic, is depressing even if you like Facebook. A new generation of artists and creative people ceding the still-fresh dream of direct compensation and independence to mediated advertising arrangements with accidentally enormous middlemen apps that have no special interest in publishing beyond value extraction through advertising is the early internet utopian’s worst-case scenario.

His hypothesis: Publisher on the web will end up where TV producers have been for a long time: filling up channels with content.

And so one more obvious theoretical question for this particular view of the future that seems to be quite popular right now, in which we have circled back to TV via the internet or apps or social media or even TV itself: Wasn’t the internet supposed to be BETTER, somehow, in all its broken decentralized chaos and glory? The TV industry, which is mediated at every possible point, is a brutal interface for culture and commerce.

6.

John Herman chimend in again this week with a more specific take on Facebook hosting publisher’s content..

Their presence in News Feed will seem slightly easier and more natural than the presence of their competitors, whose manipulative headlines—which have been carefully optimized to convince you to leave Facebook to go to another site—will read an awful lot like spam.

Could one side-effect of this move by Facebook be that we will see the end of headlines like “You won’t believe what happened next,” finally?

There is a helpful symmetry here, if you’ll grant it. Online publishers, with more readers than ever, are looking desperately for the next thing; Facebook, with more people using its core product than ever, is doing the same. The difference, of course, is that publishers’ next thing already belongs to someone else. Their future belongs to Facebook’s past.

It’s a bit ironic that publishers desperately want to be part of Facebook’s newsfeed while Facebook is looking intensively for the next big thing after the newsfeed.

7.

Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic reminds us that Facebook had encouraged publishers before to heavily invest in a FB technology.

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. They do, and for a few months, they see increased traffic in the millions. And then, one day, Facebook’s engineering team realizes that this new tool is cutting engagement and winds it down.

The whole endavour was known as the “social reader” back then and for a short time, it brought early adopters like the Washington Post a couple of million more impressions. Until Facebook decided that users didn’t like the feautre and suddenly turned it off one morning and with it all that traffic.

8.

Wednesday night, Facebook introduced a couple of new things at their developer conference F8. The stuff around the Messenger are less relevant for publishers than the advertising-related anouncements. Digiday summed it up like this:

Facebook is gradually positioning itself to become the data, media-consumption and sharing backbone for the entire digital media industry.

9.

As part of Wednesday’s update, Facebook is also expanding LiveRail’s ad management capabilities to mobile display advertising, meaning publishers can use the technology to sell both video and display ads on their mobile apps.

…writes re/code. LiveRail is the ad server that Facebook is running.

What’s significant in this announcement is that LiveRail will now use its anonymized user data to help publishers serve better targeted advertising on platforms that aren’t Facebook. So instead of relying on things like Internet cookies to help publishers target a Web visitor, publishers using LiveRail will be able to add Facebook’s user data into the mix to get a better idea of who’s watching the ad.

This is huge. And Google should be very afraid. Facebook is really starting to eat into their core business.

LiveRail and its ingestion of Facebook data “makes Facebook an important operating system of the digital ecosystem, certainly being able to rival Google and its DoubleClick infrastructure,” said Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, a targeted television advertising company. “This puts their lead in some areas under pressure. Certainly in the digital video area, Google should be worried.”

But it also means that Facebook is not focussed on what’s happning on their own platform. They also want to make their data useable to advertisers on other platforms, outside the Facebook ecosystem, sorry, “family of apps.”

The move speaks to Facebook’s desire to be a major advertising partner for publishers, brands and agencies outside its own properties.

That balance might actually make some more publishers consider their offering to host content.

10.

11.

Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie from the NY Times R&D Lab gave a great talk at FutureEverything that summed up a lot of the current trends in (digital) publishing.

TW Podcast 1: Native Advertising

[Post in German] Das Werbeformat Native Advertising ist das Thema unserer ersten Podcast-Ausgabe. Was ist Native Advertising? Was sind die typischen Beispiele? Was sind Vor- und Nachteile?

TW Podcast 1: Native Advertising

Ausgabe 0: Wir starten einen Podcast

Wir haben die erste Ausgabe unseres Podcasts für den 1. September versprochen und hier ist sie. Vorab in der Ausgabe 0 erklärt Igor noch mal kurz, warum wir diesen Podcast begonnen haben und weshalb wir ihn auf Deutsch machen.

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Unsere Idee für den Third Wave Podcast

Die inhaltliche Idee, mit der wir diesen Podcast beginnen, ist sich bestimmte Themen aus der aktuellen Konversation um Technologie, Digitalisierung, Kommunikation und Gesellschaft raus zu picken und sie grundlegender vorzustellen. Der Podcast ist weniger als Beitrag zur Diskussion gedacht und mehr als Unterstützung für Menschen, die verstehen wollen, worum die Diskussion geht und was für Konsequenzen die Themen für ihre Arbeit haben.

Ausgabe 1: Native Advertising

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Als erstes Thema haben wir uns Native Advertising ausgesucht. Dieses digitale Werbeformat sorgt nicht nur bei Google und Facebook für steigende Gewinnen, sondern sieht sich auch einer zunehmenden Kritik ausgesetzt. Manch einer wird den Begriff vielleicht sogar zum ersten mal durch den Beitrag von John Oliver wahrgenommen haben.

Wir schauen uns an, was Native Advertising eigentlich genau ist, was die typischen Beispiele sind und worin die Vorteile für Anbieter und Werbetreibende liegen. Dazu kommen unsere eigenen Erfahrungen auf Facebook. All das kompakt in 20 Minuten.

Feedback willkommen

Feedback zum Podcast ist uns willkommen. Typischerweise braucht ein neuer Podcast ein paar Episoden, bis man das richtige Format, die passende Technik und vieles mehr verfeinert hat. Deswegen sind gerade zu Beginn Rückmeldungen und Verbesserungstipps hilfreich.

Wir wollen ein paar Episoden abwarten, bevor wir den Podcast auf iTunes und den anderen Podcastplattformen veröffentlichen. Wer bis dahin keine Episode verpassen will kann sich unseren Newsletter abonnieren. Einen RSS-Feed reichen wir nach, sobald uns SoundCloud für das Podcast-Programm frei geschaltet hat.

Vielen Dank an Jan und Marcel für die Unterstützung.

TW Reads – About that Facebook study

5 articles that show how to elevate a conversation about big data, the tech industry and the scientific community.

The more I read people’s reactions to this study, the more I’ve started to think the outrage has nothing to do with the study at all. There is a growing amount of negative sentiment towards Facebook and other companies that collect and use data about people. In short, there’s anger at the practice of big data.

–danah boyd

Observing the kerfuffle around the Facebook “emotion contagion” study this week, one could see two typical reactions:

  • “How could they do this? This is outrages!“
  • “What are you angry about? Everybody is doing this all the time!“

But besides all the typical gut reactions, I was hoping that a more nuanced discussion would be triggered by this. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Here are our favorite articles about the Facebook study and connected topics that show how a conversation can be elevated by looking deeper and trying a more balanced approach, minding the complexity that comes with these kinds of topics.

Zeynep Tufekci in Facebook and Engineering the Public

Tufekci was one of the first to react, speaking mostly to the research community, demanding that it speaks to (new) power and uses it’s methods and models to investigate the manipulative abilities of tech companies.

To me, this resignation to online corporate power is a troubling attitude because these large corporations (and governments and political campaigns) now have new tools and stealth methods to quietly model our personality, our vulnerabilities, identify our networks, and effectively nudge and shape our ideas, desires and dreams. These tools are new, this power is new and evolving. It’s exactly the time to speak up!

danah boyd in What does the Facebook experiment teach us?

boyd first looked in detail at how “informed consent” works and the context of scientific research today. She then analyzes what we can learn about the public’s fear of big data by examining the reactions to the study.

Information companies aren’t the same as pharmaceuticals. They don’t need to do clinical trials before they put a product on the market. They can psychologically manipulate their users all they want without being remotely public about exactly what they’re doing. And as the public, we can only guess what the black box is doing.

Kate Crawford in The Test We Can—and Should—Run on Facebook

Crawford suggests that Facebook should do an experiment. They should let people opt-in to take part in research studies.

There is a tendency in big data studies to accord merit to massive sample sizes, regardless of the importance of the question or the significance of the findings. But if there’s something we’ve learned from the emotional contagion study, a large number of participants and data points does not necessarily produce good research.

Whitney Erin Boesel in Facebook’s Controversial Experiment: Big Tech Is the New Big Pharma

Boesel points to the difficult distinction between human subject research and data science in big data projects like this one. Another consequence is that the lines between corporate research and academic research are blurring with data companies offering lucrative jobs to scientists.

We need to create new basic standards for social and behavioral research, and these standards must apply equally to corporations and institutions, to market researchers and academic researchers, to data scientists and social scientists alike.

What they all talk about is the new power that these data companies hold, which demands a much bigger sensibility towards their users and in handling their data. In my opinion, this is maybe the biggest issue that the tech companies and the big data industry is facing right now.

Anab Jain in Valley of the Meatpuppets

With an increase in monitoring, surveillance, AI and big data, this ambiguity, this sense of uncertainty and unconnectedness will become more pronounced. Invisible wars over autonomy will become a recurring leitmotif of the 21st century.

All of this connects tremendously to a talk Anab Jain gave at Future Everything this year and which she posted this week.
She looks at the topic of power from a surveillance point of view, but goes much, much deeper to reveal the patterns that influence us and the approaches that will help us to create our own way.

As designers we believe it is important to think about wider complexities in order to challenge the deeper assumptions about technological power and control.

Highly recommended reading!

Facebook readying itself to provide financial services in form of remittance and electronic money

Facebook will soon offer remittance and electronic money services. It’s another piece of the puzzle after the launch of Internet.org and buying Whatsapp.

The authorisation from Ireland’s central bank to become an “e-money” institution would allow Facebook to issue units of stored monetary value that represent a claim against the company. This e-money would be valid throughout Europe via a process known as “passporting”.

This is just another piece of the puzzle that Facebook is executing with determination.

The devil is in the detail on this one, though. Internet.org and buying Whatsapp have been clear plays towards the not-yet-developed world. Facebook can grow in the US and Europe by making ads more expensive per user. That works so far. Especially with organic reach approaching Zero. There is growth in optimization for the next few years. Especially now that Facebook seems to have understood how to work mobile.

But the growth that is needed to get to a distant future, one that might involve having bought Oculus, is only going to materialize by getting all those other internet users onto the platform. While that might not be a literal goal – there is no chance for them getting everybody –, this might not be as far from the vision that Mark Zuckerberg seems to pursue.

A big step towards that goal was the acquisition of Whatsapp and its presence and brand recognizability in said markets. While mobile is on its way to be king in our world, it already is in Africa and many parts of Asia. Feature phones still rule, but smartphones are on the rise. Especially with Huawei & Co. dumping cheap, reliable hardware powered by Android on everybody that holds a Nokia feature phone in their hands.

One, if not the, major application of mobile phones is those markets is dealing with money. It’s a big place and banks aren’t as accessible. Money is being managed, for years now, through services. Sending money (P2P/remittance)? Not a problem. Paying for groceries? Not a problem. Name a scenario that you wish would work here and it’s already an old thing in at least part of Africa.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 15.57.24

That’s why it’s so interesting that Facebook is about to acquire a remittance license in Europe. tl;dr – it makes total sense.

We’ve been part of a project that involved building a payment service into / for Facebook since 2011. For the record, I do not know, if our client is in some way involved what Facebook seems to be doing right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are. That being said, when we started I didn’t know much about how money transfer works. Things changed in the last 3 years.

Europe is a messy, extremely tightly regulated market for financial services and products. At least from the perspective of anybody with a banking license or with the desire to have one. Compared to other markets, it’s still a “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”-situation. Additionally, many not-yet-developed countries are using European knowledge to build regulation for themselves.

Another expect is that to provide good remittance services, one has to be present in the market from which the money will flow to somewhere. Since remittance is used predominantly by foreign workers who transfer their money from the place of their work to the place where they and their family live, it makes a lot of sense for Facebook to be present in Europe. Both because European citizens are moving quite often between countries to earn their money as well as foreign workers from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia are coming here to make a living, often financing the life of their relatives in the places they came from.

As a strategy, it makes all perfect sense. Buy yourself the app that people use to communicate with each other on the devices that they use for communicating and banking, get yourself a “banking license” to one day connect everything inside one company (and possibly one application).

If successful, this will have catastrophic consequences for the open web. The tragic part, for me, is the eloquence and decisiveness of Facebook in the execution of a vision. I can’t help myself, but to admire that.

What we read this week (22 November)

Our favorite articles of this week. Have a great weekend.

Articles of the week

  • What Screens Want
    Brilliant web essay by Frank Chimero, and not only because he features James Burke and The West Wing. I bet that this one will come up in a lot of conversations in the next months.
  • Prada Revolutionaries
    “Bright Green has become the left's version of right-wing transhumanism: an excuse to not solve today's problems, because tomorrow's technology will fix them for us.”
  • Tom Armitage » Driftwood
    “Driftwood is a talk I gave at Playark 2013. It was meant to be a talk about leftovers (the theme of the conference being ‘reclaim’), and about Hello Lamp Post. In the writing, it turned into a broader overview of my own work – on six years of projects around cities and play.”
  • Meet The ‘Assassination Market’ Creator Who’s Crowdfunding Murder With Bitcoins – Forbes
    “Assassination Market, a crowdfunding service that lets anyone anonymously contribute bitcoins towards a bounty on the head of any government official–a kind of Kickstarter for political assassinations.”
  • Ross Andersen – Humanity’s deep future
    "When we peer into the fog of the deep future what do we see – human extinction or a future among the stars?"
  • Bitcoin As Protocol | Union Square Ventures
    “There is no other widely used protocol in the world today that accomplishes this: with bitcoin anyone can make a statement (a transaction) and have this be recorded in a globally visible and fixed ledger.”
  • Content economics, part 4: scale | Felix Salmon
    "It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of the CMS when it comes to the question of who’s going to win the online-publishing wars."
  • InMoov » Project
    "Here is “InMoov”, the first life size humanoid robot you can 3D print and animate. You have a 3D printer, some building skills, This project is for you!!"
  • Apple and Google Maps, and Defaults | Matt Mullenweg
    “If Microsoft did this a decade ago we’d call for the DoJ to reopen their investigation. Apple has the best phone, best tablet, and in many ways the best operating system — we should not give them a pass for this blatantly self-interested and user-hostile stance.”
  • Instagram and Youtube — Benedict Evans
    "WhatsApp and Instagram are not in different categories – they're direct competitors for time and attention." – This spot on.

What we read this week (May 3)

How robots are eating our jobs, Mailbox’s Gentry Underwood on his app and design thinking, why it’s weird when technology turns your body into an interface, how Facebook designs the “perfect empty vessel” into which you pour your content, and how the internet is both destroying and creating middlemen.

Quote of the week

Broad dissemination and individual choice turn most technologies into a plus. If only the elites have access, it’s a dystopia.

Ramez Naam

Articles of the week

What we read this week (26 Apr)

How the internet is trying to make a living, the bizarre notion that life on Earth might predate Earth itself, “demetricating” Facebook, drawing conclusions about the trajectory of human life from Facebook data, and what happens when Google knows more about what your company’s up to than you do.

Quote of the week

In the startup world, you work very hard to make other people rich. Other people.

Bruce Sterling

Articles of the week

What we read this week (16 November)

This week we learned about Facebook losing prominent clients, how the future might not be as bad as most promise, how McKinsey is teaching it clients gathering intelligence from social media and Dustin Curtis’ take on why you should always pick the best possible product.

Quote of the week

When you fail, you want to preach to the world too – because you’re saving somebody that same mistake.

Tim O’Reilly

Articles of the week

  • readwrite: Mark Cuban is taking his money away from facebook
    Dallas Mavericks owner and private billionaire Mark Cuban is not amused. After voicing heavy discontent with facebook’s recent page-changes (asking money in order to reach your own fans) he now openly discussed relocating to Tumblr or the relaunching Myspace as main hub.
  • Forbes: Don’t worry about the future
    Authors Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler explain why we should not really be worried, no matter what the headlines are. They identify four main drivers that let you forget all the noise around you for one second.
  • McKinsey Quarterly: Intel inside
    McKinsey is starting to comprehend the use of social media besides sales promotion. In the current Quarterly they provide a framework of sorts for a different kind of social media utilisation: Gathering intelligence with live-testing, crowd intelligence and new influencers. (Free signup required)
  • AllThingsD: Google launches alternative reality Android game
    One of those few times you will wish you would have an Android device instead of that iPhone of yours.
  • Dustin Curtis: Rolling with the best
    “The fundamental problem is that many products are created to be sold, not used.” We agree.

What we read this week (8 Jun)

The cutting edge of innovation, an ifttt for the physical world, using teamwork to manage your work-life balance in hyperconnected times, the story behind tech share prices and emotionally sensitive gadgetry.

Quotes of the week

The Web is a process, happening continuously and continuously transforming before our eyes; with us and through us.

Piotr Czerski

Articles of the week

  • Fast Company: Does Your Phone Know How Happy You Are?
    As phones, TVs, GPSs and assorted other bits of ubiquitous technology become increasingly clever, their abilities approach the threshold of creepiness. Kit Eaton suggests some potential implications and benefits of gadgets that can sense how we’re feeling and act accordingly.
  • Monday Note: Decoding Share Prices: Amazon, Apple and Facebook
    Jean-Louis Gassé gets behind the stock market numbers associated with major tech companies, and explains what the share prices reflect in each company’s strategy and business model. An interesting insight into the financial workings of the tech industry.
  • New York Times: 32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow
    This colorful piece gives an overview of innovative technologies – some easy to imagine, some more adventurous – that could be arriving in the near future. Shirts that can charge your iPod using variations in your body temperature, new coffee, nicer flight conditions. A nice bit of brain fuel.
  • Inc.: How to stop sleeping with your smartphone
    Many of us suffer from a compulsion to check our interwebs constantly, and this can drive us to work when we really shouldn’t be working. This article looks at some research on the matter, and presents a way members of a team could help each other switch off properly.
  • TechCrunch: on{X}: The Coolest Thing to Happen to Android
    We here at Third Wave are big fans of a service called ifttt, or ‘If This Then That.’ It provides an easy interface for connecting various web services to each other – you could, for instance, take all the articles that pop up in your Google Reader feed and save them to Evernote. It’s very helpful that way. So, it comes without surprise that we are also very curious about a new service that Microsoft released for Android: on{x} seems to be very much like ifttt with one key difference: it’s for real life situations. We will be testing it for sure.

What we read this week (1 June)

Our reads this week: the successful phenomenon of mobile money in the emerging markets, the advantages Google has over Facebook without having to push Google+, news on cyberwar (against Iran, once again), the case against share buttons in social media and some pretty nauseous reflections on the future.

Quotes of the week

More than a billion people in emerging and developing markets have cell phones but no bank accounts.

Beth Cobert, Brigit Helms and Doug Perk

Articles of the week

  • The Atlantic: How Google Can Beat Facebook Without Google Plus
    Alexis Madrigal’s excellent analysis of why Google Plus isn’t working as planned, and how it might find its way in social media by taking a completely different, more organic approach to community building.
  • Wired: Meet ‘Flame,’ The Massive Spy Malware Infiltrating Iranian Computers
    After Stuxnet and Doqu, we will apparently have to remember Flame (or Flamer) in the list of viruses/malwares that represent the state of cyberwar. Wired’s Threat Level has a detailed report on this one.
  • Robin Sloan: Pictures and vision
    Robin Sloan explains how the Google vs Facebook battle could evolve in a very different way from what we might expect right now. He points out that the concepts that drive the two companies’ success might come down to photos and what he calls ‘vision,’ or making sense of what we’re seeing.
  • Information Architects: Sweep the Sleaze
    iA’s Oliver Reichenstein explains why the now all-too-familiar share buttons that appear on the edges of so many websites only depreciate the value of content. He makes the case for removing these buttons altogether.
  • Ribbonfarm: Welcome to the Future Nauseous
    You don’t have to wait 10 years for the future to happen because the future is basically happening as we speak. The article takes us on a virtual time travel, asking us to reflect on the changes that have taken place. The environment changed, but we stayed all the same. How are we able to prepare for, plan and deal with the future, at the same time managing to deny it taking place right here and right now?