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Facebook pivots to what it wishes it was

In Facebook’s dreams, it’s a clean and private place. People spend their time having thoughtful discussions in “meaningful” Groups, planning offline meetups with Events, or laughing together in a Facebook Watch party.
In reality, Facebook is a cluttered mess of features that seem to constantly leak user data. People waste their time viewing inane News Feed posts from “friends” they never talk to, enviously stalking through photos of peers, or chowing on click-bait articles and viral videos in isolation. Facebook will never shake this reputation if it just keeps polishing its old features.

That’s why Facebook is rolling out what could be called an “aspirational redesign” known as FB5. Rather than polishing what Facebook was, it tries to spotlight what it wants to be. “This is the biggest change we’ve made to the Facebook app and site in five years” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said to open Facebook’s F8 conference yesterday.
The New Facebook
Most noticeably, that starts with sucking much of the blue out of the Facebook interface to making it look sparse and calming — despite a More button that unveils the social network’s bloat into dozens of rarely used features. A new logo features a brighter blue bubble around Facebook’s distinctive white f, which attempts to but a more uplifting spin on a bruised brand.

Functionally, FB5 means placing Groups near the center of a freshly tabbed interface for the both Facebook’s website and app, and putting suggestions for new ones to join across the service. “Everywhere there are friends, there should be Groups” says the head of the Facebook app Fidji Simo. Groups already has 1 billion monthly users, so Facebook is following the behavior pattern and doubling down. But Facebook’s goal is not only to have 2.38 billion people using the feature — the same number as use its whole app — but to get them all into meaningful Groups that emblematize their identity. 400 million already are. And now Groups for specific interests like gaming or health support will get special features, and power users will get a dashboard of updates across all their communities.
Groups will be flanked by Marketplace, perhaps the Facebook feature with the most latent potential. It’s a rapidly emerging use case Facebook wants to fuel. Just a a year and a half after launch, Marketplace had 800 million monthly users. Zuckerberg took Craigslist, added real identity to thwart bad behavior, and now is bolting it to the navigation bar of the most-used app on earth. The result is a place where it’s easy to put things up for sale and get tons of viewers. I once sold a couch on Marketplace in 20 minutes. Now sellers can take payments directly in the app instead of with cash or Venmo, and they can offer to ship items anywhere at the buyer’s expense. By following Zuckerberg’s mandate that 2019 focus on commerce, Facebook has become a viable Shopify competitor.

If Groups is what’s already working about Facebook’s future, Watch is the opposite. It’s a product designed to capture the video viewing bonanza Facebook observes on Netflix and YouTube. But without tent pole content like a “Game Of Thrones” or “Stranger Things”, it’s failed to impact the cultural zeitgeist. The closest thing it has to must-see video is Buffy The Vampire Slayer re-runs and a docuseries on NBA star Steph Curry. Facebook claims 75 million people now Watch for at least one minute per day though those 60 seconds don’t have to be  sequential. That’s still just 4 percent of its users. And a Diffusion study found 50 percent of adult US Facebook users had never even heard of Watch. Sticking it front and center demonstrates Facebook commitment to making Watch a hit even if it has to cram it down our throats.
Not The Old Facebook
The products of the past got little love on stage at F8. Nothing new for News Feed, Facebook’s mint but also the source of its misinformation woes. In the age of Snapchat and Zuckerberg’s newfound insistence on ephemerality to prevent embarrassment, the Timeline profile chronicling your whole Facebook life got nary a mention. And Pages for businesses that were the center of its monetization strategy years ago didn’t find space in the keynote, similar to how they’ve been butted out of the News Feed by competition and Facebook’s philosophical shift from public content to friends and family.
The one thing we heard a lot about but didn’t actually see much of was privacy. Zuckerberg started the conference declaring “The future is private!” He spoke about how Facebook plans to make its messaging apps encrypted, how it wants to be a living room rather than just a town hall, and how it’s following the shift in user behavior away from broadcasting. But we didn’t see any new privacy protections for the developer platform, a replacement for its Chief Security Officer that’s been vacant for nine months, or the Clear History feature Zuckerberg announced last year.

“I get that a lot of people aren’t sure that we’re serious about this. I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly” Zuckerberg joked without seeming to generate a single laugh. Combined with having little to show to enhance privacy, making fun of such a dire situation doesn’t instill much confidence. When Zuckerberg does take things seriously, it quickly manifests itself in the product like with Facebook’s 2012 shift to mobile, or in the company like with 2018’s doubling of security headcount. He knew mobile and content moderation failures could kill his network. But does someone who told Time magazine in 2010 that “What people want isn’t complete privacy” truly see a loose stance on privacy as an existential threat?
Interoperable, encrypted messaging will boost privacy, but it’s also just good business logic given Zuckerberg’s intention to own chat — the heart of your phone. Facebook’s creepiness stems from it sucking in data to power ad targeting. Nothing new was announced to address that. Despite his words, perhaps Zuckerberg doesn’t aspire to make Facebook as private as he aspired to make it mobile and secure. 

Wired reported that Zuckerberg authored a strategy book given to all employees ahead of the IPO that noted “If we don’t create the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will.” But F8 offered a new interpretation. Maybe given the lack of direct competitors in its league, and the absence of a mass exodus over its constant privacy scandals, it was the outdated product itself that was killing Facebook. The permanent Facebook. The all-you-do-is-scroll Facebook. The bored-of-my-friends Facebook. Users were being neglected rather than pushed away or stolen. By ignoring the past and emphasizing the products it aspires to have dominate tomorrow — Groups, Marketplace, Watch — Facebook can start to unchain itself from the toxic brand poisoning its potential.

Facebook pivots to what it wishes it was

Zuckerberg says the future is sharing via 100B messages & 1B Stories/day

The News Feed won’t sustain Facebook forever, and that’s scaring investors. Today on Facebook’s earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg stressed that sharing is shifting to private chat, where people send 100 billion messages per day on Facebook’s family of apps, and Stories, where he says people share 1 billion of these slideshows per day (though it’s unclear if that includes third-party apps like Snapchat).
But that means Facebook will have to realign its business towards these mediums where monetization is more complex and it has less experience. The result of Zuckerberg’s comments was a reversal of Facebook’s initial 2 percent share price gain after earnings were announced that dragged it down to a 3.5 percent loss. That was only reversed when Zuckerberg said Facebook would reduce limits on video advertising, pushing shares up 3 percent in after-hours trading.
Facebook’s year-over-year revenue growth has already slowed from 59 percent in Q3 2016, to 49 percent a year ago, to 33 percent now as Zuckerberg admits it’s hitting saturation in developed markets, plus it’s running out of News Feed space. Now it will both have to deal with the sharing medium shift, and that the new users it’s adding in the Asia-Pacific and Rest Of World regions earn it 10X less than users in North America.

Facebook shares climb despite Q3 user growth and revenue

Battling iMessage
In messaging, Zuckerberg says “People share more photos, videos, and links on WhatsApp and Messenger than they do on social networks.” He sees Facebook’s position as strong, saying “We’re leading in most countries”, though that’s mostly in the developing world Android market where people choose their own default messaging app. “Our biggest competitor by far is iMessage. In important countries like the US where the iPhone is strong, Apple bundles iMesssage as the default texting app, and it’s still ahead” Zuckerberg notes.
The “bundled” language harkens back to to antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft for bundling computers with Internet Explorer. With Apple CEO Tim Cook constantly harping on the poor privacy practices of ad-supported companies like Facebook, Zuckerberg might be gunning to draw regulator attention to iMessage.

Facebook is starting to more aggressively monetize Messenger through inbox ads, and its now selling enterprise tools to brands on both Facebook and WhatsApp that let them pay to ping users. But Facebook risks its chat apps seeming annoying or intrusive if it packs in too many ads or allows too much Message spam. Users could stray to status quos like iMessage and Android Messages if it puts monetization above the user experience.
Dominating Snapchat
On Stories, Zuckerberg says Facebook is doing even better. Over 1 billion people use its Stories features across Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp each day, compared to 186 million daily users on Stories inventor Snapchat as a whole. Stories are where the majority of Facebook sharing growth is happening, and Facebook Stories are gaining momentum after a slow and buggy start. That’s why Zuckerberg never mentioned Snapchat, and instead talk about YouTube as its primary competitor in video.
The problem is that creating attractive video ads, especially vertical full-screen ones for Stories, is beyond the capability of the long-tail on small businesses that have fueled Facebook’s News Feed ad revenue. Users often rapidly skip through Stories ads, and Facebook currently doesn’t offer unskippable ones like Snapchat. Many people don’t think to tap or swipe up to visit a link from a Story, or simply don’t want to lose their place in ways that didn’t happen on desktop or even mobile feed ads.

Chasing YouTube
Beyond Stories, Facebook salvaged its after-hours share price by discussing how it plans to show more video, and therefore more of its lucrative video ads. Back in January, Facebook admitted its Q4 user count had declined and revenue might stumble in part because it had decided to show people fewer viral videos that they watch passively. This came as part of its drive for Time Well Spent. But now, Zuckerberg says that Facebook has cracked the code for how to make passive video consumption a positive experience, so Facebook will lift some limits:
“People really want to watch a lot of video. To a large degree we’ve had to rate limit its growth, and we need to do the things so we can stop limiting it. The things that have caused us to limit it are on the one hand, when we see passive consumption of video displacing social interactions . . . We needed to figure out a way that video can grow but people can also keep on interacting and doing what they tell us that they uniquely want from Facebook. And now I think we’re starting to work through what the formula is going to be so we can take some of those rate limits off and let video grow at the rate that it wants to. I feel that that’s a very exciting opportunity ahead.”
Across Facebook’s other products, Zuckerberg noted that 800 million people now use Marketplace, its Jobs feature have helped people find 1 million jobs, and its birthday fundraisers have raised $300 million alone this year. But it will be teaching advertisers how to effectively create sponsored messages and Stories ads that will define whether Facebook’s revenue keeps growing.

Facebook shares climb despite Q3 user growth and revenue

Zuckerberg says the future is sharing via 100B messages & 1B Stories/day

Facebook mistakenly deleted some people’s Live videos

This time instead of exposing users’ data, a Facebook bug erased it. A previously undisclosed Facebook glitch caused it to delete some users’ Live videos if they tried to post them to their Story and the News Feed after finishing their broadcast. Facebook wouldn’t say how many users or livestreams were impacted, but told the bug was intermittent and affected a minority of all Live videos. It’s since patched the bug and restored some of the videos, but is notifying some users with an apology that their Live videos have been deleted permanently.
The bug raises the question of whether Facebook is a reliable place to share and store our memories and important moments. In March, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told congress regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal that “We have a responsibility to protect your data – and if we can’t, then we don’t deserve to serve you.” Between that misappropriation of user biographical data, the recent breach that let hackers steal the access tokens that would let them take over 50 million Facebook accounts, wrongful changes to users’ default sharing privacy settings, and now this, some users may conclude Facebook in fact no longer deserves to serve them.
Facebook user Tommy Gabriel Sparandera provided TechCrunch with this screenshot showing the apology note from Facebook on his profile. It reads “Information About Your Live Videos: Due to a technical issue, one or more of your live videos may have been deleted from your timeline and couldn’t be restored. We understand how important your live videos can be and apologize that this happened.”
When TechCrunch asked Facebook about the issue, it confirmed the problem and provided this statement: ““We recently discovered a technical issue that removed live videos from some people’s Facebook Timelines. We have resolved this issue and restored many of these videos to people’s Timelines. People whose videos we were unable to restore will get a notification on Facebook. We know saving memories on Facebook is important to people, and we apologize for this error.”

Facebook made a huge push to own the concept of “going Live” in 2016 with TV commercials, billboards and more designed to overshadow competitors like Twitter’s Periscope. It eventually succeeded, with Periscope’s popularity fading while one in five Facebook videos became Live broadcasts. But in its blitz to win this market, it didn’t build adequate safety and moderation tools. That led to suicides and violence being livestreamed to audiences before Facebook’s content police could take down the videos.
Nowadays, most users don’t go live frequently unless they’re some kind of influencer, public figure, or journalist. When they do see something important transpiring, Facebook has positioned itself as the way to broadcast it. But if users can’t be sure Facebook will properly save those videos, it could persuade them it’s not worth becoming a camera man instead of a participant in life’s most interesting moments.

Facebook mistakenly deleted some people’s Live videos

WhatsApp finally earns money by charging businesses for slow replies

Today WhatsApp launches its first revenue-generating enterprise product and the only way it currently makes money directly from its app. The WhatsApp Business API is launching to let businesses respond to messages from users for free for up to 24 hours, but will charge them a fixed rate by country per message sent after that.
Businesses will still only be able to message people who contacted them first, but the API will help them programatically send shipping confirmations, appointment reminders or event tickets. Clients also can use it to manually respond to customer service inquiries through their own tool or apps like Zendesk, MessageBird or Twilio. And small businesses that are one of the 3 million users of the WhatsApp For Business app can still use it to send late replies one-by-one for free.

After getting acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014, it’s finally time for the 1.5 billion-user WhatsApp to pull its weight and contribute some revenue. If Facebook can pitch the WhatsApp Business API as a cheaper alternative to customer service call centers, the convenience of asynchronous chat could compel users to message companies instead of phoning.
Only charging for slow replies after 24 hours since a user’s last message is a genius way to create a growth feedback loop. If users get quick answers via WhatsApp, they’ll prefer it to other channels. Once businesses and their customers get addicted to it, WhatsApp could eventually charge for all replies or any that exceed a volume threshold, or cut down the free window. Meanwhile, businesses might be too optimistic about their response times and end up paying more often than they expect, especially when messages come in on weekends or holidays.

WhatsApp first announced it would eventually charge for enterprise service last September when it launched its free WhatsApp For Business app that now has 3 million users and remains free for all replies, even late ones.
Importantly, WhatsApp stresses that all messaging between users and businesses, even through the API, will be end-to-end encrypted. That contrasts with The Washington Post’s report that Facebook pushing to weaken encryption for WhatsApp For Business messages is partly what drove former CEO Jan Koum to quit WhatsApp and Facebook’s board in April. His co-founder, Brian Acton, had ditched Facebook back in September and donated $50 million to the foundation of encrypted messaging app Signal.

WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum quits Facebook due to privacy intrusions

Today WhatsApp is also formally launching its new display ads product worldwide. But don’t worry, they won’t be crammed into your chat inbox like with Facebook Messenger. Instead, businesses will be able to buy ads on Facebook’s News Feed that launch WhatsApp conversations with them… thereby allowing them to use the new Business API to reply. TechCrunch scooped that this was coming last September, when code in Facebook’s ad manager revealed the click-to-WhatsApp ads option and the company confirmed the ads were in testing. Facebook launched similar click-to-Messenger ads back in 2015.
Finally, WhatsApp also tells TechCrunch it’s planning to run ads in its 450 million daily user Snapchat Stories clone called Status. “WhatsApp does not currently run ads in Status though this represents a future goal for us, starting in 2019. We will move slowly and carefully and provide more details before we place any Ads in Status,” a spokesperson told us. Given WhatsApp Status is more than twice the size of Snapchat, it could earn a ton on ads between Stories, especially if it’s willing to make some unskippable.
Together, the ads and API will replace the $1 per year subscription fee WhatsApp used to charge in some countries but dropped in 2016. With Facebook’s own revenue decelerating, triggering a 20 percent, $120 billion market cap drop in its share price, it needs to show it has new ways to make money — now more than ever.

Facebook loses $120 billion in market cap after awful Q2 earnings

Why unskippable Stories ads could revive Facebook

WhatsApp finally earns money by charging businesses for slow replies

Why unskippable Stories ads could revive Facebook

Prepare for the invasion of the unskippables. If the Stories social media slideshow format is the future of mobile TV, it’s going to end up with commercials. Users won’t love them. And done wrong they could pester people away from spending so much time watching what friends do day-to-day. But there’s no way Facebook and its family of apps will keep letting us fast-forward past Stories ads just a split-second after they appear on our screens.
We’re on the cusp of the shift to Stories. Facebook estimates that across social media apps, sharing to Stories will surpass sharing through feeds some time in 2019. One big reason is they don’t take a ton of thought to create. Hold up your phone, shoot a photo or short video and you’ve instantly got immersive, eye-catching, full-screen content. And you never had to think.
Facebook CPO Chris Cox at F8 2018 charts the rise of Stories that will see the format surpass feed sharing in 2019
Unlike text, which requires pre-meditated reflection that can be daunting to some, Stories are point and shoot. They don’t even require a caption. Sure, if you’re witty or artistic you can embellish them with all sorts of commentary and creativity. They can be a way to project your inner monologue over the outside world. But the base level of effort necessary to make a Story is arguably less than sharing a status update. That’s helped Stories rocket to more than 1.3 billion daily users across Facebook’s apps and Snapchat.
The problem, at least for Facebook, is that monetizing the News Feed with status-style ads was a lot more straightforward. Those ads, which have fueled Facebook’s ascent to earning $13 billion in revenue and $5 billion in profit per quarter, were ostensibly old-school banners. Text, tiny photo and a link. Advertisers have grown accustomed to them over 20 years of practice. Even small businesses on a tight budget could make these ads. And it at least took users a second to scroll past them — just long enough to make them occasionally effective at implanting a brand or tempting a click.

Stories, and Stories ads, are fundamentally different. They require big, tantalizing photos at a minimum, or preferably stylish video that lasts five to 15 seconds. That’s a huge upward creative leap for advertisers to make, particularly small businesses that’ll have trouble shooting that polished content themselves. Rather than displaying a splayed out preview of a link, users typically have to swipe up or tap a smaller section of a Story ad to click through.
And Stories are inherently skippable. Users have learned to rapidly tap to progress slide by slide through friends’ Stories, especially when racing through those with too many posts or that come from more distant acquaintances. People are quick with the trigger finger the moment they’re bored, especially if it’s with an ad.

A new type of ad blindness has emerged. Instead of our eyes glazing over as we scroll past, we stare intensely searching for the slightest hint that something isn’t worth our time and should be skipped. A brand name, “sponsored” label, stilted product shot or anything that looks asocial leads us to instantly tap past.
This is why Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg scared the hell out of investors on the brutal earnings call when she admitted about Stories that, “The question is, will this monetize at the same rate as News Feed? And we honestly don’t know.” It’s a radically new format advertisers will need time to adopt and perfect. Facebook had spent the past year warning that revenue growth would decelerate as it ran out of News Feed ad inventory, but it’d never stressed the danger as what it was: Stories. That contributed to its record-breaking $120 billion share price drop.

Facebook loses $120 billion in market cap after awful Q2 earnings

The shift from News Feed ads to Stories ads will be a bigger transition than desktop ads to mobile ads for Facebook. Feed ads looked and worked identically, it was just the screen around them changing. Stories ads are an entirely new beast.
Stories ads are a bigger shift than web to mobile
There is one familiar format Stories ads are reminiscent of: television commercials. Before the age of TiVo and DVRs, you had to sit through the commercials to get your next hit of content. I believe the same will eventually be true for Stories, to the tune of billions in revenue for Facebook.
Snapchat is cornered by Facebook’s competition and desperate to avoid missing revenue estimates again. So this week, it rolled out unskippable vertical video ads it actually calls “Commercials” to 100 more advertisers, and they’ll soon be self-serve for buyers. Snap first debuted them in May, though the six-second promos are still only inserted into its longer-form multi-minute premium Shows, not user-generated Stories. A Snap spokesperson said they couldn’t comment on future plans. But I’d expect its stance will inevitably change. Friends’ Stories are interesting enough to compel people to watch through entire ads, so the platform could make us watch.

Snapchat is desperate, and that’s why it’s already working on unskippable ads. If Facebook’s apps like Instagram and WhatsApp were locked in heated battle with Snapchat, I think we’d see more brinkmanship here. Each would hope the other would show unskippable ads first so it could try to steal their pissed-off users.
But Facebook has largely vanquished Snapchat, which has seen user growth sink significantly. Snapchat has 191 million daily users, but Facebook Stories has 150 million, Messenger Stories has 70 million, Instagram Stories has 400 million and WhatsApp Stories (called Status) leads with 450 million. Most people’s friends around the world aren’t posting to Snapchat Stories, so Facebook doesn’t risk pushing users there with overly aggressive ads, except perhaps amongst U.S. teens.
Instagram’s three-slide Stories carousel ads
That’s why I expect we’ll quickly see Facebook start to test unskippable Stories ads. They’ll likely be heavily capped at first, to maybe one to three per day per user. Facebook took a similar approach to slowly rolling out auto-play video News Feed ads back in 2014. And Facebook’s apps will probably only show them after a friend’s story before your next pal’s, in-between rather than as dreaded pre-rolls. Instagram already offers carousel Stories ads with up to three slides instead of one, so users have to tap three times to blow past them.
An Instagram spokesperson told me they had “no plans to share right now” about unskippable ads, and a Facebook spokesperson said “We don’t have any plans to test unskippable stories ads on Facebook or Instagram.” But plans can change. A Snap spokesperson noted that unlike a full 30-second TV spot, Snapchat’s Commercials are up to six seconds, which matches an emerging industry trend for mobile video ads. Budweiser recently made some six-second online ads that it also ran on TV, showing the format’s reuseability that could speed up adoption. For brand advertisers not seeking an on-the-spot purchase, they need time to leave an impression.
By making some Stories ads unskippable, Facebook’s apps could charge more while making them more impactful for advertisers. It would also reduce the creative pressure on businesses because they won’t be forced to make that first split-second so flashy so people don’t fast-forward. Employing unskippable ads could also create an incentive for people to pay for a hypothetical ad-free Facebook Premium subscription in the future.
If Facebook makes the Stories ad format work, it has a bright future that contrasts with the doomsday vibes conjured by its share price plummet. Facebook has more than 5X more (duplicated) Stories users across its apps than its nearest competitor Snapchat. The social giant sees libraries full of Stories created each day waiting to be monetized.

Stories are about to surpass feed sharing. Now what?

Why unskippable Stories ads could revive Facebook