What are the consequences of the recent Facebook changes?
So I’ve take a few days to assess the changes – there’s always a mad rush to be the first to review a new site and it’s pretty obvious (to me anyway), that Facebook is hell bent on becoming the platform for the web. But rather than opening up from the cliche’d “walled garden”, it is inviting people “in” to it – which is why their launch choice of social apps is so important – apps with critical mass, technologically advanced or are an innovative fit with Facebook’s re-volution.
The new platform for the web – Pre-IPO growth?
In reality, it is too easy to say that Facebook is becoming the platform for the web – with close to 800m users, the draw, simply of people and friends alone is significant. But the announcements this week demonstrates a clear desire to use applications and tools (as much as the people who use them) as a major driver in its next period of growth.
Thinking back to the great 2006/7 app-rush, there was a flood of interest in Facebook as users and brands could do more in Facebook than ever before. Fast-forward 4 years and we’re in the same boat, except this time, the apps that are now integrated into Facebook are proven successful services, bringing with them millions of members.
These services naturally relied on people wanting to spend time away from Facebook (music, news etc.) but the emerging trend (not just in apps, but new services too) certainly seems to be one of creating new experiences in Facebook.
Take a look at Techcrunch Disrupt winner Shaker, creating a Habbo Hotel-style social gaming experience sat on the Facebook platform, or Color, the new in-Facebook streaming app – again works only on Facebook. With the integration of music and video into Facebook it certainly seems a case of “if you can’t beat them, join them”. All of which adds a significant number of users to Facebook – and commercial value.
As an aside, I really wish that Loic Le Meur had pursued the video platform that Seesmic created and found a way of integrating this into Facebook!
Are the apps up to the job though?
At the moment, this really only applies to Spotify, but it certainly is the case that as an app, it is pretty basic. Spotify Mobile updates seem erratic, more about basic bug-fixing than new features and the desktop app updates even more rarely – something which is exactly what is happening in the social space at the moment. Spotify’s biggest advantage is also its biggest downfall. Creating playlists. It is so easy to create new playlists, it is nigh-on impossible to organise them.
Sound familiar? This is exactly the problem that Google+ and Facebook are now managing with friends and friend lists – Apple have managed it with ipod, so what is Spotify’s solution? This issue of noise is only going to get worse as more and more friends experience musical serendipity.
Spotify and indeed all entertainment services now need to consider themselves as social platforms – spotify is a social platform that plays music rather than just a music playing one with sharing functionality – and this will require a fair amount of innovation based on what exists at the moment.
This is a significant change in mindset if we are to avoid seeing services simply use Facebook as another broadcast mechanism.
Frictionless Sharing and Privacy Issues
Spotify’s integration with Facebook is now so tight that new users have to have a Facebook account to make it work. Furthermore, anything and everything you play on Spotify, wherever it may be being played, is now being fed back into Facebook. Whilst it admittedly causes some concerns about the fact that you might secretly listen to The Saturdays (erm…!!) it is a brilliant way to find stuff that you didn’t know about or that your friends are listening to.
I was initially dead against this, it took me right back to the old days of Facebook Beacon when exactly the same kind of pre-opted-in boadcasting happened but having played with it for a while longer, I totally see the benefit.
As Brian Solis suggests, this change alone is forcing us to re-evaluate what we believe privacy to be or mean. We have all traditionally been free and easy with our information, but we have all been comfortable with this because WE have been in control of what is public, even if it is to a limited number of circles or friend lists. This changes everything. Are we happy to have the people we consider friends to alter their judgement of who we are by the minutae of our listening and reading habits?
Ask yourself this question though. Has the benefit of finding new music or even old favourites you’d forgotten about been of more value to you than anything your friends might have seen that may have a tinge of embarrassment? Have you learnt more from reading a Guardian article about a sensitive topic your friend also read than suffered as a result of others seeing you have read the same article?
Whatever your view of privacy, what this frictionless sharing introduces properly into our lives is genuine serendipity. For the last 5 years, services and algorithms have been trying to find ways to only show us the things that it thinks we are interested in – some work, some fail miserably.
Trust usurps Influence
This brings me onto the issue of influence. We are all influential about all sorts of different topics – yet when it comes to our closest friends, we will happily accept advice about a topic, track, film or pair of shoes from our friends – wherever their area of expertise may lie. The same applies to music and news. Music is often discussed as the emotional glue that binds many of us from different backgrounds together and we are much more likely to try something new that our friends have discovered.
As apps and services wake up to the opportunities that tighter social integration bring, I expect the trust we have in our friends to introduce many more and much wider experiences and products than we currently see. Which brings one massive headache with it – how do we measure this influence?
Are we doing this because we can or because people want it?
In the space of just 2 weeks, Facebook has introduced Friend Lists, Subscriptions, a mini-stream, new profiles/timeline, integration with spotify and news apps. Is the everyday user of Facebook (i.e. the person who simple uses it to communicate with friends) capable of understanding the benefits of all of this innovation?
Are we likely to see an 18-year old student divide their, say 500-odd friends into specific friend lists and subscribe to different bits of content from each list? I suggest not.
Are they going to be MASSIVELY concerned about the auto-posting to their walls of content they interact with? Yes.
Are they going to be MASSIVELY concerned that sites they visit outside of Facebook are being fed back to Facebook? Yes.
Cookie issues aside (which Facebook are now addressing) and complex account management aside, “chain statuses” are aplenty with scare stories of what can be seen on your wall and what data facebook can see. “Normal” users are scared. However, all of these changes are necessary to ensure that we have a way to manage what will become a deluge of information from streaming movies to music and news.
Noise management is perhaps the most crucial aspect underpinning all of these changes. As Facebook brings the web to IT and becomes our main window to the web, without a proper way of managing this information, we will sink…and take Facebook with us
What does this mean to you?
Think social. If you are a brand or agency, Facebook is now forcing your hand. No longer can a strategy be based around the “if” of Facebook, but now more the “must”. And that is not just about Facebook Pages either. Crucially, you must now consider how your brand can be social. And being social is not, as we discovered last week, about simply using old message techniques on new platforms. It is about behaving in new ways and taking a fresh look at your product and service in entirely new ways.
However you look at it, the world has just changed. Massively.