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Facebook's 'Plans': Good or Evil?

With Facebook alleged to be hosting content, is it a good or bad thing?

31Mar

Although it has not been officially announced from the company itself, insider information has been leaking around the internet for a few days that claims to have implicit knowledge that Facebook is planning on hosting media content.

At the moment Facebook is seen by many to be a director of traffic to media sites. This is because if you were to see a story on Facebook from this website, for instance, it would direct you to this site and allow you to read the story here. With Facebook’s alleged new approach, they will instead host the content from these media companies directly on their site.

The big question is whether or not this good or evil?

Good

Facebook has over 1.4 billion users, meaning that it has a huge captive audience. It also means that it has the best possible data for this huge number of people.

Through this data, content can be targeted at specific people who would have the most interest in it. So if the Telegraph had a piece on digital strategy, then we would have it pop up on our Facebook feed, rather than just seeing a link if we followed that company or if somebody had posted something about it.

The idea behind this would be that Facebook then directs you to the page where they are hosting content, which has advertisements around it, which then give Facebook money. Insiders have claimed that this deal would allow Facebook to split the revenues of these adverts with the media companies.

This would undoubtedly give them a huge boost in terms of monetization. It would also mean that their reader base is technically increased, but it would depend on how you define a reader base, after all if somebody is reading something written by one company but hosted by another, which company is having their content read?

One of the major drivers behind this is that it would allow people to access media content without needing to leave the Facebook homepage. It is something they have experimented with via their videos already. If a video is hosted by Facebook, it automatically starts when you scroll through your feed. If it is hosted elsewhere, you need to click to watch it.

It has been estimated that when a user clicks a link and is redirected to another site, it can take around 8 seconds to load on most mobile devices. In terms of the internet, this is glacier slow and disrupts the user’s experience of both Facebook and the external site being accessed. Hosting content directly on Facebook would mean that this was a thing of the past and we would simply be able to see the content we want, quicker.

Evil

Facebook do not own this media and would essentially be making money from the work of others, whilst contributing little themselves. The road of content creation has now reached the stage where millions are doing it, but few are doing it well.

Through taking what others are doing and attempting to set themselves as the default media site that you do not need to leave, they are taking what others are creating and monetizing it themselves. They are not the first people to try it, but from what has come out from some of the meetings, it seems like none have tried to do it on this scale.

The bigger impact that this has is simply that it removes considerable amounts of data from the media companies.

Having the ability to pinpoint what people like, don’t like, advertise against or avoid is vital for modern media companies to help create the best possible articles for their audiences. If Facebook post all articles on their site, the amount of this data being made available to media companies will decrease significantly.

This is bad for the media companies, but according to a breaking court case, bad for the readers too. According to reports, people who are not even logged into Facebook, who have opted out of tracking or don’t even have Facebook accounts are all being tracked by the internet giant.

This contravenes several EU laws and could supposedly lead to prosecutions in Europe. If this is to set a precedent for the way that data is used and collected by Facebook, they will only get more information on their users from the various types of media they read. Having this kind of information being collected by a company that has a questionable, at best, approach to the legality of data collection cannot bode well for anybody.

We have seen the power that Facebook could have on traffic and therefore monetization of websites, with Gawker. When Facebook changed their algorithm they saw their monthly traffic plummet from 15 million to 11 million in the space of one month.

If Facebook has this much impact on a company’s traffic, it is clear that they hold a major advantage in how much money a media company can make. If we take a company like the Times in London who have implemented a radical subscription model, if they are covering similar stories to other media companies that are published on Facebook, they will naturally lose a considerable amount of their traffic and subscribers.

The biggest single issue that this will create is that it will significantly damage media companies’ ability to innovate. If they are forced to publish to Facebook because otherwise their competitors will simply report the same stories and get more traffic, then they will be forced to adhere. We have seen the impact that this social media driven approach can have on the quality of stories on websites. This has seen the significant decline in websites for previously well respected papers like The Independent, who’s second story today is how David Cameron is related to Kim Kardashian. If Facebook’s plans come to fruition, it would not be hard to see others being forced to go down the same route.


So which is it? Do you think that Facebook’s alleged plans are a good or bad thing for digital publishers?

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