Facebook pushes reboot on News Feed

Last night, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook's most meaningful action in memory: it is making a major change to the News Feed that will prioritize all friend content above that of brands, news and other types of media. In a post on his (personal?) page, Zuck had this to say:

We're making a major change to how we build Facebook. I'm changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions. [...] Now, I want to be clear: by making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.

After re-reading the post a few times, and letting it sink in, this seems authentic. Not only is Zuckerberg saying that Facebook is making a change that will hurt its core metrics, it's signaling poor performance as a result — and still making the change anyway.

Basically, Facebook appears to want to get back to its roots — the time before, when you poked people, shared on their walls and actually engaged publicly. Here's what Facebook's head of News Feed had to say about the change: 

With this update, we will also prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people. To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed. These are posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts that you might want to share and react to – whether that’s a post from a friend seeking advice, a friend asking for recommendations for a trip, or a news article or video prompting lots of discussion.

First, let's be clear on this: Facebook has said this before, many times. In 2016 it said it would tweak the algorithm to prioritize friends more, and in 2015 it basically said the same thing — but neither statement was as bold as this, nor carried as much weight. 

Second, if Facebook really is willing to cut core metrics in order to try and make those personal connections matter again, it has a new problem on its hands: organic social sharing has completely crated on the service. The Information reported in 2016 (paywall) that it's grappling with how users simply don't share publicly anymore:

The effect is that most original posts appear to come from a minority of users. Around 57% of Facebook users who used the app every week posted something in a given week, the confidential data show. But only 39% of weekly active users posted original content in a given week, and 6% of weekly active people posted to a specific group of friends as opposed to the News Feed. 

This is a real problem if you're a company that's planning to pivot back to focusing on social connections. Over the last year Facebook has tried many tweaks to increase growth, and recent efforts have included interesting pushes to encourage this in an organic way, such as asking the user a series of pointed questions.

The elephant in the room, however, is that the media is a huge problem. As you might imagine, publishers are spooked about this change, particularly because almost all media companies now receive more than 50% of their traffic from Facebook — the honeymoon period is now officially over.

Digiday played up the 'end of the world' narrative yesterday, but reality is cold and harsh: publishers have not been wise about any of this, and will suffer at their own hand. If Facebook traffic craters — and it will — those affected most will be the types of publishers that simply tie their success to social sharing, and hollow clicks on pages.

It's always interesting to watch the media hand-wringing from afar, and they'll spend the next few weeks feigning frustration, surprise, disgust and disappointment in Facebook. This isn't a change you could not have seen coming long-term: of course Facebook was friendly and helpful when you're quite literally giving them millions of eyeballs for free.

What I believe is really important here isn't that it's a reckoning for publishers, but a reckoning for bad media business models. The industry has been driven by shitty metrics for too long, which encouraged practices like tricking users into clicking articles, and now that clock has run out. 

Yes, it will hurt and we'll lose some good publications along the way, but the reality is now simple: this business model does not work. Slathering your pages with crappy banner ads, Javascript injection and tricking your users into clicking on advertisements does not work. Something needed to snap and Facebook is, unfortunately for them, at the core of much of this so it's able to redefine how time is spent on the internet at large.

I believe that Zuckerberg's intentions are genuine, and I think his impact on the world haunts him. Given that he still has majority control over the company's board, he's able to make bold changes like this that other CEOs would be afraid to do, lest they be replaced. 

The genuine challenge ahead, as I see it, is an audience of people who are tired of Facebook and don't really want to share publicly anymore. It's all well and good to bring back that genuine feed of the people I care about, but it won't mean much if that's a ghost town.

Dropbox is going to IPO

It's official, Dropbox, the mysterious unicorn that seemed like may never go public... is finally doing it! For the first time we'll get some interesting insight into the company's workings when the filing is available, and I believe this IPO will shed light on why it took so long to get here: the competition.

Dropbox has great brand recognition and has appeared to find renewed ways to reach new users. Dropbox Paper, for example, competes with Google Drive and Microsoft Word — it ultimately somehow became my go-to document creation tool because it actually feels like what the future of documents should be: not trapped in an A4 page.

A number of years ago it's easy to forget Dropbox's focus was splintered: it purchased email app Mailbox and dipped its toes into photo apps with Carousel while the core product seemingly languished. In 2016, the company found renewed focus and vigor by pushing for business use cases and releasing Paper, overhauling the way it synchronizes files and rebooting its payment tiers.

Apparently the service now has 500 million users, which is quite surprising, given that its core product is quite literally now baked into every operating system ever. When Dropbox was envisioned, there really weren't any competing platforms — but now Onedrive, Google Drive, iCloud Drive and so on exist, which make conversion an uphill battle.

I'm so curious to see inside this company and learn if the core product is growing, or if it's pushing this IPO off the back of those new broadened user acquisition strategies — alongside Spotify, this is likely to be the biggest IPO of the year.

Tab Dump

The making of Apple's emoji
Did you know iOS' world-famous emoji were designed by an intern? If anything, that'll tell you how little Apple cared about emoji until recent times, but I love this piece about how that work launched this designer's career.

Intel's Meltdown patches are causing random server reboots
This story doesn't stop getting worse: Intel's now investigating a serious issue that's stemming from its Meltdown patches in datacenters causing random reboots. You can't make this stuff up!