Category: Facebook

Facebook Adds Stories to iOS/Android Apps to Try to Kill Snapchat

Facebook stories

Facebook truly DESPISES Snapchat!

As documented in a blog post today, Facebook has now added "Stories" to their main mobile apps. Just like Snapchat, these stories:

  • expire after 24 hours
  • can be either images or videos
  • have all sorts of filters and effects you can add
    • this includes a "masks" feature similar to Snapchat "lenses" that can change someone's face
  • can also be sent directly to one or more of your friends
    • and just like Snapchat, the recipient can view the photo - and then view the photo once more in 24 hours
  • can be created by simply swiping to the right to rapidly access the camera

If you reload your iOS or Android app today, you should see that the top of the app has changed. You now have:

  • a camera icon in the upper left corner that lets you open the camera
  • a "Direct" icon that gets you to images or videos sent directly to you. (Yet another messaging inbox.)
  • a bar of icons of all the friends who have posted Stories so far

And, as mentioned before, you can now swipe to the right to access the camera. If you don't have this feature today, you should within the next day or so.

Cloning Snapchat again and again...

Adding "Stories" to the main Facebook app comes as no surprise. It's been clear for a while that Facebook was jealous of all the people using Snapchat and wanted to bring them back inside Facebook's shiny walled garden. Facebook had already rolled out "stories" in their other Messaging apps:

  • Instagram Stories
  • WhatsApp Status
  • Facebook Messenger "My Day"

Of these, Instagram Stories has been viewed as successful. The WhatsApp and Messenger launches have been very recent and so it's not clear how many people will use them.

How will Facebook differentiate from Snapchat?

In their blog post, Facebook notes that:

Over the coming months, we plan to introduce new ways for the Facebook community to create their own frames and effects that can be used on any photo or video created with the new Facebook camera. Our goal is for the camera to be a home to hundreds of dynamic and fun effects that give you new ways to connect with friends, family, and your community.

We hope that with the new Facebook camera, Stories and Direct, it will be easier than ever to see the world through each other’s eyes

While it is possible in Snapchat to create a custom "geofilter", this teaser from Facebook sounds like a great bit more.

Facebook, of course, has a huge userbase. As I wrote in my "Directory Dilemma" post a few years back, users will use an app for messaging if the people they want to communicate with use that app. And the reality is that Facebook is the center of many people's communication.

So on one level, Facebook doesn't need to differentiate from Snapchat. They simply need to provide this functionality... and hope that this keeps people from opening up the yellow ghost app.

And of course, Facebook still supports regular text posts, photos, links, all of which last longer than 24 hours. They also have Facebook Live video streaming.

This is just really a way to bring "ephemeral messaging" (messages that disappear after a period of time) inside of Facebook's walls.

How many places can people post "stories"?

The question to me is really:

how many places can people realistically post their 24-hour "stories"?

Right now people have at least FIVE major options:

  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Facebook Messenger
  • WhatsApp

... and any other apps that are copying Snapchat right now.

The reality is that users won't post to all of them. They'll choose one... maybe two... and that will be it.

Many people will probably choose to stay right inside of Facebook's walls and use that. Or, if they are already using Instagram Stories, they may stay there.

But what about Facebook Messenger?

One curious aspect of this announcement is bringing direct messaging BACK INSIDE the Facebook mobile app.

Facebook has spent a couple years now moving messaging OUT of the "Facebook" app. They have forced people to use Facebook Messenger to send and receive direct messages on a mobile device.

Now using the "Direct" inbox, we can send and receive messages inside the Facebook app again.

Granted, the messages can only be viewed twice within 24 hours - and they are in the form of images or videos. But we do have messages in the Facebook app again.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook evolves these many different messaging and "stories" channels they have.

Which will YOU choose?

If you have read this far... do you see yourself using the Facebook Stories?

Or will you stay with Snapchat? or Instagram Stories?

Or are you using WhatsApp Status or Facebook Messenger "My Day"?

Or do you just wish this whole "Stories" format would go away? ;-)

Please do leave comments here or wherever this article appears on social media.


P.S. There are many other stories about Facebook Stories appearing today.


Will Facebook Live Audio be good for podcasting? So many questions…

Facebook live audio

Will "Facebook Live Audio" be good for podcasters? Will it help us engage with our audiences? Will it compete with SoundCloud and other similar platforms? Or will it pull people away from traditional podcasts to keep people within Facebook's shiny walls?

On December 20, Facebook announced the impending release of "Live Audio", initially with five partners and then "early next year" to more people. There's been a great amount of discussion but as of yet I've not learned of anyone who has seen/heard one of these new Live Audio events. Here is the info I've seen so far or can speculate on:

  • Users will be able to go live with audio in a similar way to going live with video.
  • Live audio content will go out in News Feed.
  • Listeners can ask questions and leave reactions in real-time during the live audio stream.
    • Presumably listeners will also be able to leave comments and reactions after the event is no longer live. Will Facebook differentiate as they do with comments to Live Video events? (Comments during the event have a red dot next to them.)
  • Facebook users can easily share the Live Audio streams to their own feeds and friends.
  • Listening will occur inside the Facebook mobile application. There will be an important distinction between iOS and Android listeners:
    • iOS users will only be able to listen while the Facebook app is open (and the phone is not locked). The users can continue browsing through Facebook while listening.
    • Android users will be able to listen in the background while using other apps.
    • To me this means that Facebook has not yet integrated with the audio interfaces within IoS that allow other apps to play in the background or on lock screens.
  • Techcrunch reports that Live Audio streams will have a limit of four hours in length.

As far as a motivation for launching Live Audio, Facebook mentions the feedback that some publishers prefer audio as a format. They also mention that some people are in areas where Internet connectivity is too low to support Live Video. Writing over on The Drum, Sean Larkin notes that Facebook needs new advertising formats and points to a recent study from The Trade Desk showing that advertisers are looking to increase their spending on audio advertising. Audio streaming and podcasts were highest rated in that survey.

In many ways this seems a logical extension of Facebook's desire to be THE place where people spend their time on the Internet. Given the explosive growth in interest in podcasts, it seems to me only logical for Facebook to try to bring some of that attention inside their walls.

Granted, it seems Facebook's initial focus is on the audio version of "live events" versus on podcasts. But to me podcasts are an obvious extention of this tool.

My Questions

Given that we can't see the Live Audio streams yet, or the tools to produce them, I find myself with the following questions:

  • Will users be notified with special "Dan York is live" kind of messages? (I suspect yes.)
  • Will Live Audio streams show up in the new "Live" tab in the mobile app? (as Live Video streams do now?)
  • What tools will be available for streaming audio? For instance, will there be anything to help with audio levels?
  • Presumably we will have to use the Facebook mobile app to stream the Live Audio streams. Will it be able to work with any other mobile apps?
  • Will we be able to bring in intros, outros, bumpers and other audio effects? Or will it truly be raw, live audio?
  • Will Live Audio streams also be accessible outside Facebook's walls to traditional podcasting apps? i.e. would there be a RSS feed that could go into iTunes? Or will it only work inside of Facebook?
  • Will Live Audio be a place to host a podcast? Or will it be another distribution channel?
  • Will Live Audio help spread the interest in podcasts and audio streams? Or will it impact the usage of traditional podcasting apps?
  • What will the impact be on SoundCloud? Many of us have found that platform useful for quick, fast podcasts.
  • And on a techie note, could you start out in Live Video and when connectivity drops, could you drop to Live Audio? Or will they be two separate event types that need to be started separately? (I suspect the latter.)

So many questions!

Given my interest in using SoundCloud for rapid creation and distribution of podcasts, I'll be curious to see how well Facebook Live Audio might work for podcasting. It might be good... it might be too constraining.

What do you think? Are you interested in Facebook Live Audio?


P.S. Another interesting aspect - over on The Verge, Casey Newton notes the potential of Live Audio for "witnessing" events: "Live audio of police confrontations might be less conspicuous, and thus easier, to broadcast than video streams."

Facebook Says: Get Your Site Mobile-Friendly Or Your Ads Will Suffer

Fb mobile performance

If your web site isn't "mobile-friendly" yet, and you do any advertising on Facebook, well... you better make your site mobile-friendly very soon! Facebook said on Wednesday that websites will be penalized in Facebook's advertising network if they are NOT mobile-friendly. The Wall St. Journal covered this news as did a number of other sites.

I completely understand Facebook's logic here. As they say at the beginning:

Has this ever happened to you? You tap a link on your mobile device, only to have the website take so long to load, you leave before you even see it. You’re not the only one. As many as 40 percent of website visitors abandon a site at 3 seconds of delay.

People are spending more and more time on mobile—consuming content, interacting with businesses and making purchases. However, since it’s a relatively new channel, many businesses haven’t optimized their website for mobile yet and still have very slow loading times. This can lead to negative experiences for people, and problems for businesses such as site abandonment, missed business objectives and inaccurate measurement.

I agree. I abandon visiting sites on my mobile phone all the time because the sites take a long time to load.

Of course, for me, I'm following links from posts inside of Facebook, not ads, but the principal is the same.

If you haven't optimized your site for mobile yet, there are plenty of resources available. Here are a few:

Beyond Facebook ads, of course, Google announced way back in 2014 that they would be penalizing sites in search result ranking that were NOT mobile-friendly. This news this week is just another reason to get this done!

Have you made your sites mobile-friendly? If not, why not?


An audio commentary on this topic is also available:

Facebook Messenger’s "Instant Video" Lets You Simultaneously Use Video and Chat

FB instant video

The messaging wars continue! Today Facebook Messenger added "Instant Video" to it's iOS and Android app, allowing you to easily share live video while still in a text chat. Facebook has had "video calling" since back in May 2015, but that requires both parties to answer the video call in the same way that Facetime, Wire and every other video app does it.

"Instant Video" is different:

  • VIDEO STARTS OUT ONE-WAY - Only the video of the person initiating "Instant Video" is shown. The recipient sees the video of the sender, but their video connection is NOT enabled. Now, the recipient can start sending video, but they don't have to.

  • AUDIO IS OFF INITIALLY - When the sender starts their video, the recipient receives the video without any sound. They can easily start getting sound by tapping on the speaker icon on the video, but this is great because often you are having a text conversation precisely because you don't want to use audio.

  • YOU CAN STILL SEE THE CHAT - The video overlays the upper right corner of the chat window, but that's it. You can still see the chat messages and continue having your chat.

This last point is quite important and useful. This "Instant Video" lets you add video to a chat, while still allowing chat to be the primary communication medium.

Predictably, there was a great amount of media coverage of this launch today. Some noted that this was yet-another-way Facebook was cloning Snapchat. Others called this an answer to Google Duo.

Regardless, I immediately saw a personal use case. Occasionally I will go to a local coffee shop to pick up muffins for my wife and I. The flavors are always changing. If I don't see one I think she'll like, I often wind up calling - or texting her with the flavors. But it would be actually a bit easier and faster if I texted her "which one do you want?" and then sent her a live video stream where I panned back and forth across the choices. Sure, that may seem a silly use case... but it immediately sprang to my mind.

For "Instant Video" to work, a couple of conditions need to be true:

  • YOU BOTH NEED THE LATEST MESSENGER APP - You need to have the latest version for either iOS or Android.

  • YOU BOTH NEED TO BE *IN* THE CHAT - This is key. You can't just open up Messenger and start sending video to someone who is listed in your contacts. You need to actually be in communication with the other person.

Once this second item is true the video icon on the top of the screen starts pulsating - at which point you can start sending "Instant Video".

I'd note that this is the same icon used to initiate a "regular" video call. However, when you are in a chat with someone else the pulsating icon means you can do this new "Instant Video" style of chat.

I found I really liked the overlay aspect. Here's the view I saw on my end:

FB Messenger video overlay

It worked very well to continue the text conversation while having the video right there, too.

It's an interesting addition as Facebook continues to try to make Messenger be THE tool that people use for messaging. Facebook has this advantage of having an absolutely massive "directory" of users (see "the Directory Dilemma") and so we may see this helping with keep people inside of Facebook's shiny walls.

What do you think? Do you see yourself using this "Instant Video"?

Trying a New Rule – No Social Media Usage Until I Have Created Something New

Being a writer not being distractedI'm trying something new as part of my day:
No social network usage until I have created something online.

No Facebook. No Twitter. No Instagram... Ello... Google+... or anything else.

Nothing on any of those each day until I have done something such as:

The issue is that I've noticed lately that I've been doing more consuming of content versus creating content.

And as I looked at why, I've noticed that I've been spending a longer time inside of social networks. Before I start my work day I'll fire up Facebook... and 30 or 40 minutes later I emerge. Or on a break I'll scan Twitter or Instagram... and... again time goes by.

Which isn't to say that Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / etc. aren't useful... they definitely are.

But I find I am letting them distract me into consumption of news, updates, etc., instead of creating my own.

So my little experiment is NOT to check any of those until after I've created some content in some form.

Now, I've given myself permission to "cheat" a little in that I might schedule several posts to go out in advance... but the point is to be publishing more than I am doing now.

We'll see how this goes...


Image credit: A few years ago Donna Papacosta posted a photo of this button on her Facebook page. I liked it so much that I printed it out and taped it up on the cross-bar of my office window so that every time I look up from my computer I see that image! The photo is of that image between the blinds that I have covering the window on sunny days.


UPDATE #1 - So on the second day I already failed... I was just getting going and had my phone open checking something else... and bam... I fired up Facebook and started surfing through my Newsfeed. Almost an unconscious action at this point! Will take some re-training to break this habit.


An audio version of this post is now available:

Facebook Messenger Launches Group Conference Calls (Audio-only)

Continuing their efforts to be THE communication platform you use, the Messenger team at Facebook rolled out "group calling" this week within the Messenger app on iOS and Android. The new feature was announced by David Marcus, head of the FB Messenger team. Right now this is audio-only (i.e. not group video) and per media reports is limited to 50 participants.

I had to go to the AppStore and upgrade the Messenger app on my iPhone to the latest version, but once I did, I suddenly had a phone icon in the upper right corner of a group chat:

FB groupcalls 1

Tapping that phone icon brought me to a screen where I could choose which of the group members I wanted to bring into the group call:

FB groupcalls 2

After tapping "Call" in the lower right, Messenger launched the call and gave me feedback about who it was connecting, etc:

FB groupcalls 3

It then connected those who were available and four of us were in a group conference call:

FB groupcalls 4

As you can see in the screen captures, I had the standard buttons to mute my microphone and to activate the speakerphone.

AUDIO QUALITY - The audio quality was quite good. I couldn't find any technical info about what they are doing "under the hood" but one of the folks on the call understood that it was WebRTC-based, which would then imply the use of the excellent Opus audio codec. We experienced a couple of audio hiccups but nothing outside the normal VoIP experience and nothing that really detracted from the call. It certainly sounded like a rich, wideband-audio connection.

We didn't stay on the call for long as I didn't want to take their time (or my own), but exiting the call was simple and brought us right back into the group chat to continue our communication.

MOBILE-ONLY - One concern noted by a couple of folks was that the incoming audio call only rang on their tablet or phone, i.e. the iOS or Android app. It did not ring inside of Facebook in a desktop web browser or in the Messenger.com website.

Beyond that, though, it seemed a very straightforward and positive experience.

Now, Facebook Messenger is not the first to do this, of course. Skype has had group audio and video calls for years. As Venturebeat noted, in March of last year Line launched group calling for up to 200 people and WeChat added group audio and video calls in September.

Still, this is Facebook Messenger, with its 900 million users, providing yet another reason to NOT use traditional audio conferencing solutions.

I would suspect, too, that video conferencing can't be too far off, either, given that Facebook Messenger currently does let you do 1:1 video calls - and also that competitors offer group video calls.

It continues to be an absolutely fascinating time to watch the severe disruption of traditional telecommunications... and this move by Facebook is yet another example of how the ways we are communicating are changing.

What do you think? Will you use the group calling within Facebook Messenger?

Facebook Takes On Snapchat With Launch of "Messenger Codes" To Easily Connect Users

On the eve of Facebook's major "F8 Developer Conference" happening April 12-13, the company has launched a clear attack on Snapchat's "Snapcode" method of connecting users with their new "Messenger Codes". If you go into the newest version of Facebook Messenger on iOS (which is the only platform I have to test right at this moment) and click on the gear icon in the lower right labeled "Settings", you now see a brand new profile screen:

Facebook messenger code settings

There are two things to note here:

  1. The circular shaped code around my profile image; and
  2. The new short URL of m.me/dyork which brings me to a web version of Facebook Messenger. (More on that in a different post.)

The circular code clearly reminded me of Snapchat's "Snapcode", where mine is:

Snapcode dyork

And sure enough, when I clicked on the "People" icon at the bottom of the Messenger app, the first option on the top is "Scan Code":

Facebook messenger scan code

Since I had learned about these codes via a tweet from Chris Messina, I pointed my phone at my laptop screen where his Messenger Code was visible:

Fb messenger messina

As I got closer to the code, the Messenger app automagically recognized the code and put me into a message window with Chris:

Fb messenger messina success

I didn't chat with him as I didn't have a reason to do so and I don't recall us actually meeting. But I could ... it was this easy to get connected.

In a similar way to Snapchat, from the "Scan Code" window there is a symbol in the lower left corner that lets you access your phone's photos. So if you receive a Messenger Code via some other method (such as Twitter where people are already posting their codes using the #F8 hashtag) and save that image to your photos, you can access it from the "Scan Code" page and connect with the person.

From that same "Scan Code" page you can also tap "My Code" to see your code. Here's mine:

Fb my code

I can now share that Messenger Code out through the icon in the upper right and get it out into other social services (as I did on Twitter), or via text message, email, DropBox or anything else.

(Amusingly, while I could share the image out to Snapchat, the image is shared as square and since Snapchat uses full vertical images it cropped the image... meaning that the full Messenger Code would not be displayed and presumably would not work.)

So What?

At this point you may be saying "so what?" and wondering what value this really brings.

As I wrote about last year, messaging is all about "the directory dilemma", i.e.

People will only USE a communication application if the people they want to talk to are using the application.

It's all about having the most massive directory of users and growing that directory.

As Snapchat has demonstrated, the use of these "user codes" takes away the friction of figuring out how to connect with someone.

Over the past months a number of people I know have changed their Twitter and Facebook profile images to be their Snapcode. All I need to do, then, is point Snapchat on my phone toward their image and... ta da.. I can send them a connection request. No worry trying to look up their name... or figure out which of the many "Dan Yorks" I am if they are trying to connect to me.

Simple. Easy.

In many ways it's the proprietary version of QR codes... although focused on connecting two users rather than (as is often the case with a QR code) sending you to a web page or other site.

I expect we'll start seeing people change their Twitter profile photos to include their Facebook Messenger Code.

If people do, Facebook can steal the messaging from that rival platform. If you advertise your Messenger Code as the profile on another service, you are effectively saying "I prefer to get Facebook Messenger messages".

Take away the friction of connecting and let users advertise how to connect on your messaging platform.

If I were the organizer of an event, and I wanted to use FB Messenger as my primary messaging app, I could very easily see adding my Messenger Code to the event website, or even to printed flyers that might hang in a local coffee shop, library, gym, school or wherever...

Simple. Easy.

What About Brands? Facebook Pages?

I could see a huge benefit to brands to be able to publish these Messenger Codes, particularly with the expectation of "chat bots" being unveiled at F8 this week.

Again, from Facebook's point of view, this would keep the messaging within Facebook's walled garden, and continue to keep Facebook having the biggest directory of active users.

Tonight I couldn't discover anything similar in the Pages app or any other place. But you would think it would be coming... we'll have to stay tuned to F8 coverage this week to find out more.

What About Messaging Spam?

But if you publish your Messenger Code everywhere, what about spam?

Another good question... and since I published my Messenger Code on Twitter, perhaps I'll find out the answer over the next day or so! :-)

Perhaps Facebook will filter them all into the "Message Requests" that was very hard to find. I don't know! I have to think they will do something to ensure Messenger doesn't descend into the spam pit as email has.

How Else Can Messenger Codes Be Used?

We'll have to see what they tell us at the "F8 Developer Conference" this week... stay tuned!

What do you think about these Messenger Codes? Do you think it will help in connecting you with people? Will your promote your code? Or do you think it is all a waste of time? Let me know in the comments or on social media...

Instagram Embraces The Algorithm – Switches From Showing Newest First

Instagram

Some big news in the social media world this morning was that Instagram is embracing the algorithm. Instead of seeing posts from Instagram accounts you follow in "reverse chronological order" (newest updates first) you now will see them in an order determined by Instagram. As the company wrote in a blog post today (my emphasis added):

You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most.

To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.

Note that important part:

To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.

Your feed will "show the moments WE believe".

Instagram decides.

You have no say in the matter.

Now, of course, Instagram's parent Facebook has been doing this for years now. Twitter, too, has recently embraced the algorithm saying in February that users would start seeing "the Tweets you’re most likely to care about" at the top of your timeline..

Algorithms are not necessarily bad.

I wrote about this topic over on Ello a month ago in a post "Sometimes Algorithms Help Us" [1].

The reality is that algorithms can help us sort through the deluge of content that is exploding on all the social services. As I wrote in that Ello post referencing first blogging and then Twitter:

The deluge of content became too hard for one person to handle

Algorithms can help us sort through the deluge and try to bring to the surface the most interesting and useful items.

The big question is - who is in control of the algorithm?

Is it ME, the user?

Or is it the service/platform?

And in that case how will they potentially manipulate the algorithm toward their own ends?

The problem is that there is a great potential for abuse on the part of the service/platform. As I noted in my recent post about Facebook Reactions, Facebook manipulated users newsfeeds back in 2012 as part of an experiment about moods.

Beyond that, I know many folks, myself included, who just assume that Facebook and now Twitter (and now Instagram) will use the algorithm to manipulate our feeds to show us more advertising and sponsored posts.

They have to, really, in order to pay their investors given that advertising is really their only revenue source.

And this is the problem - the algorithm is a "black box". We, the users, have no idea what is inside of it or how it works.

The corporation is entirely in control.

They are the gatekeeper of the content we see.

Ideally we would have some degree of transparency and control. We would at least know how the algorithm is affecting what we see. But we don't for most of these services.

In their blog post today, the folks at Instagram write:

We’re going to take time to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way. You’ll see this new experience in the coming months.

I hope they do listen - and I hope they do help us at least understand how the algorithm will shape what we see.

Perhaps they'll take some inspiration from Facebook that still provides (at least for the moment) the option to change to see the most recent updates:

Facebook news feed

Although I thought I saw somewhere some stat that only a very few people actually use that option.

Meanwhile, all we can do is embrace the algorithm ourselves... we have no control over the Instagram platform. That is entirely in the hands of the corporation (Facebook) behind it. If we are to continue using it, we are subject to their whims and desires.

Welcome to our brave new world where the corporations are the gatekeepers of what we see.

And, in truth, the algorithm just may help us find more interesting and relevant images within the deluge of Instagram photos.

What do you think? Will embracing the algorithm help make Instagram more interesting and useful? Or do you see this as a cynical attempt to merely get more advertising visible to us?

P.S. Many more stories about this change are appearing on Techmeme.


[1] Note to self: need to pull that post out of Ello's walls and publish it here on the open web.

Do Facebook Instant Articles Support The Open Web… or Facebook’s Walled Garden?

Facebook instant articles

Will Facebook's impending opening up of its "Instant Articles" on April 12 to ALL publishers of content help the "open web"? Or will it just keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny walled garden?

As Facebook's launch announcement says in part:

We built Instant Articles to solve a specific problem—slow loading times on the mobile web created a problematic experience for people reading news on their phones. This is a problem that impacts publishers of all sizes, especially those with audiences where low connectivity is an issue.

...

Facebook’s goal is to connect people to the stories, posts, videos or photos that matter most to them. Opening up Instant Articles will allow any publisher to tell great stories, that load quickly, to people all over the world. With Instant Articles, they can do this while retaining control over the experience, their ads and their data.

It sounds great on many levels and blogging pioneer Dave Winer has written passionately about "How Instant Articles helps the open web" (also published on Medium). He went on to document his Instant Articles (IA) feed and to talk about how his blog posts now automagically stream out to Facebook Instant Articles along with other services: Oh the places this post will go!

The beautiful part about Instant Articles is that it is based on good old RSS feeds ... and so with a few additions to the markup of your RSS feed you could be ready to go technically to start publishing Instant Articles. (There are a number of other steps you need to do, though.) Even better, and a point Dave definitely makes, Facebook Instant Articles will update when you make changes to your original text - something that doesn't happen with services (such as Medium) where you can syndicate your articles after you write them... but they don't update.

As Dave notes in "How IA happened from my point of view" by quoting me (in my comment left on Medium), I think this a great step in allowing publishers to easily get their content into Facebook's Instant Articles. My quote said:

"I have expected that Facebook would be focused on keeping everyone inside their shiny walled garden and thought I understood that Instant Articles involved putting your content on FB’s servers… which I now understand it *does*, but via caching of an RSS feed. Which is VERY cool!"

In my previous quick reading about Instant Articles, I had understood that it involved publishers loading their content onto Facebook's servers - and so I thought that we who publish would be forced to load our content onto FB's servers separate from our own websites.

In other words, I thought we would need to publish twice.

This, to me, would NOT support the "open web" that exists outside the big walled gardens of content that we are seeing now evolving.

I thank Dave for helping me understand that Facebook very nicely chose to base IA on the consumption of RSS feeds. This allows us as publishers to create our content once and syndicate it out to Facebook Instant Articles.

This is good and very much in line with the IndieWeb thinking around "POSSE - Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere" that I very much believe in. I applaud Facebook for making it so easy for content publishers to make our content available as Instant Articles.

BUT...

Is the existence of Instant Articles good for the open web?

Right now, when I post a link in Facebook to an article on one of my sites:

when people follow that link they view the article on MY site.

On MY web server, running somewhere out on the distributed, de-centralized and "open" web.

(Which, yes, is increasingly getting centralized in terms of content hosting providers, but let's leave that for a separate article. The point is that I currently do have multiple choices for where I host that content.)

People can interact with my site, see my content there, potentially leave comments there on the site, etc.

My site, and the content on that site, is not dependent on Facebook.

The key point about viewing Instant Articles is:

Reading "Instant Articles" keeps you ENTIRELY within Facebook's walled garden.

You read the Instant Articles inside of your Facbook mobile app. You comment and interact with the article inside of Facebook's app.

All the interaction happens within Facebook's mobile app.

Yes, as a publisher I can get analytics about my content, including via other services such as Google Analytics.

And yes, all the Instant Articles content is pulled in from my website out on the "open web". But while that content is pulled in using "open protocols",

the content is cached (stored) on Facebook's servers and made available through Facebook's own networks.

Over time publishers might start to ask:

Why not simply publish everything DIRECTLY inside of Facebook?

With Instant Articles, Facebook is already serving out my content from their servers... why don't I simplify my workflow even more by just publishing all my content natively inside of Facebook?

And if I were Facebook that would be what I would ultimately want. Even more content exclusively inside MY walled garden that would keep people staying inside those shiny walls.

Yes, User Experience Matters

Having said all of this, I do understand WHY Facebook is doing this beyond the obvious desire to keep people in their walled garden:

The mobile user experience of reading/viewing content has a HUGE need for improvement!

Even with the push by Google and many others to make the web "mobile-friendly" there is still a huge amount of room for improvement.

We need to speed up the "mobile web" and to improve the user experience.

Facebook is trying to do this with Instant Articles. Google is trying to do this with "Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)", which I'll be soon writing an article about. Apple would like to do this with Apple News.

All of those efforts, though, do speed up the mobile web ... but only for users of specific apps / browsers / etc.. Each of the efforts creates a better mobile user experience, but within their own walled gardens.

And I do understand that from Facebook's point of view the mobile user experience isn't as seamless as it could be when people are in the Facebook app and then follow a link out to a completely different look-and-feel and a completely different user experience.

It can be jarring. And it may not work all that well.

Instant Articles will bring a significantly better user experience to users of the Facebook mobile apps.

As a user of those Facebook apps, I can see that being a good thing. Admittedly I sometimes do not follow links I see in my NewsFeed because I know from experience that the site linked to loads slowly and I don't have time at that moment to wait to view that article. I want to see it NOW.

But is the price of a better user experience worth the continued centralization of content within large walled gardens?

And will anyone really care... as long as they can read their article as fast as possible?

Will I Publish Through Facebook Instant Articles?

Of course!

I'm not stupid! The reality is that right now a huge amount of the audience I want to reach is within Facebook's shiny walled garden - and uses Facebook's NewsFeed as a primary way of getting much of their content. I am there myself and do get a large number of links that I visit on a daily basis through what I see in my Facebook NewsFeed.

Like Dave Winer already does, I'm working to see what I can do to make at least a few of my sites accessible via Instant Articles by the April 12 launch. (For instance, I see WordPress plugins for IA already emerging and FB themselves provides some guidance for content management systems.)

I'll do it because my end goal is to get my content seen by the people who I want to reach.

And right now, Facebook is the way that so many people consume content.

I have to go where the conversation is happening.

Do I worry, though, about the long-term effects this may have on the "open web"?

Absolutely.

And I think you should, too.

We Need An Open Internet

We need an "open web" ... and a far larger "open Internet" ... where we don't have to ask permission to communicate, connect, collaborate and create (what many of us call "permissionless innovation").

The centralization of content, both in terms of publishing of content and consumption of content, is a very worrisome trend.

Huge, centralized walled gardens such as Facebook today can make Instant Articles "open to everyone" ... but tomorrow they could start to play much more of the "gatekeeper" role, determining:

  • precisely "who" gets to publish content to the Facebook audience (which they are already doing in a way through the process of applying for Instant Article access);
  • whether that content gets to be seen by all Facebook users (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm and could do even more now that Facebook Reactions are out);
  • whether that content gets to be seen for free - or for a price (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm for displaying Pages content and letting you "boost" content).

Yes, I'll publish through Facebook Instant Articles (assuming my feeds get approved) because it will help Facebook users more easily view my content.

And I'm glad that Facebook chose to use RSS as the base to allow us to easily publish our content as Instant Articles without having to create a separate mechanism for publishing to Facebook.

I just worry that in then end this will only help keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny and pretty walled garden ... versus interacting with the many other sites and services that make up the larger open Internet.

What do you think?

Will you start publishing your content as Facebook Instant Articles? Do you think that we as content providers have much of a choice if we want to reach people on Facebook? What do you think this will do long-term?


An audio podcast about Facebook Instant Articles is also available:


UPDATE #1 - In a bit of synchronicity, Dave Winer published a new post - Who should support IA and how - at about the same time as I posted mine. He suggests that IA should be used as essentially the improved plumbing to make the mobile user experience better across different platforms and walled gardens. I don't disagree.. but I wonder how many of the other walled gardens (ex. Twitter, Medium) would actually support Facebook's protocol. (Sounds like a topic for another blog post...)

Questions I Have About Facebook Reactions

Facebookreactions

After using Facebook Reactions for two days now (after writing about it on Wednesday), I find myself overall pleased with the ability to do more than just "Like" a post. Sure, I would like more "reactions" (most notably the ability to leave a "WTF" reaction to most current political posts!) but I also understand the need of the designers to limit the choices. (This Wired article had some good insight into the design challenges.)

But now I find myself wondering:


1. Will this change DECREASE the number of text comments?

Previously because the only option was to "like" a post, if there was one that was sad (ex. death of a loved one or pet) I would often write something. Now there is the option to choose "Sad". Ditto for the other reactions.

2. Will this change INCREASE the number of interactions?

On the other hand, now you do have options when you don't want to "like" a post but just don't know what to say in words. Previously you might have NOT engaged with the post at all. Now you could choose a reaction as a way of interacting. As a friend wrote on Facebook:

now people who weren't going to take the time to write out a text comment anyway will be able to at least express something because they now have a choice other than just like or nothing.

3. Will Facebook share the Reactions data with Page administrators?

For Facebook Pages, when we go into the "Insights" area, will we be able to see the different "reactions" to a post? I suspect the answer is "yes", but on any of the Pages for which I am an administrator I haven't yet seen people using Reactions. (I imagine I'll be able to answer this myself in a little while as people use the reactions more.)

4. How well will the use of these reactions enable Facebook to target advertising?

Let's be clear, rolling out these reactions helps Facebook in a massive way with being able to better target you for advertising. If you previously "liked" a post about, oh, kale ... but in truth were only doing it because you liked that the person shared the post, Facebook might have interpreted that as support and showed you ads about kale.

Now you can choose "Angry" as a reaction to any article about kale, which Facebook could then use to NOT show you positive ads about kale, but perhaps instead ads for the "kale-haters" club or something like that.

(I should note that I can't recall ever actually clicking on an ad in Facebook, but maybe some day I will.)

5. Will Facebook use the Reactions information to tweak what is displayed in our NewsFeed?

For instance, if I use an Angry reaction for every political article about Donald Trump, will Facebook change my NewsFeed to show me fewer Trump articles? (But what if I like being angry?)

There seems like there could be a great possibility for manipulation of the NewsFeed and thus of people's emotions. (As Facebook did as a test back in 2012.)

6. Will Facebook provide information to the public about the use of Reactions?

Will Facebook ever provide some aggregate data about how people are using Reactions? For instance the number of posts with each reaction... or the percentages of usage of the different reactions?

Facebook obviously has the capacity to gather all this data on a truly massive scale. It would be great if at some point they could provide some views into what kind of usage they are seeing.


Obviously question #3 I may soon be able to answer myself, but the others are ones that I'll continue to wonder about.

What about you? What do you think about Facebook Reactions? What questions do you have?


An audio commentary on this topic is available: