Social Media

The Facebook Watch that Watches You Back?

Facebook Technologies, AKA Meta, AKA Those Guys Who Use Your Data to Sell Advertising, AKA Those Guys Who Just Lost a Huge Load of Money, have a new patent and things may be about to get interesting in the wearables space yet again.

Yanko Design first brought this to my attention with some fun renders of what a “Meta Watch” might look like, basing their designs on a 2021 patent filed by Facebook.

It’s a fun concept: a tiny touchscreen with a pair of built-in cameras to make it easy for you to make and take video calls from your watch. It’s a perfect solution to the problem of not having a portable screen that fits in your… oh, wait, you already have a phone though, right? Makes you wonder what the point of this device might be then…

Meta: The Company that Never Learns

Companies like Facebook/Meta hold huge numbers of patents. They patent far more things than they ever put into production. There’s no guarantee that this device, or anything like it, will ever see the light of day. Could Facebook enter the wearables market though? Almost definitely… because they never learn their lesson.

This prospective Meta watch has all the hallmarks of the typical Meta product; small concealed cameras, a GPS tracking option (alright, that’s not in the patent but it’s a pretty standard smart-watch component), and biometrics. That’s right, just when you thought Facebook couldn’t want any more data, now it wants to know if you’re having a hard time climbing the stairs…

Literally the least cool a pair of Ray-Bans have ever looked

Facebook’s last stab at a wearable was Facebook Glasses, a product so intrusive that the Russian FSB declared it a “spy gadget”. You’d think they’d know – they are actual spies, after all. Is there any reason to expect that they would be less invasive when there’s a chance to grab even more data?

Meta: The Company that Did Learn One Lesson

If there’s one lesson that Facebook may have learnt, its that building your product on someone else’s platform is a bad idea (unless you are a business who wants to base your marketing strategy on Facebook, in which case they will assure you that it is totally fine). Facebook took a huge financial hit recently when it revealed falling user numbers and an impact to advertising revenues linked to Apple’s decision to block the tracking technologies on which Facebook relies. Where once Facebook’s “mobile first” strategy was hailed as genius, its now turned into a nightmare for the company. They don’t control the mobile environment, Apple and Google do, and that makes Facebook vulnerable.

Solution? Get into the hardware market and regain control of the flow of data from users to Facebook. With a simple Bluetooth link to a mobile phone, Facebook’s wearable could transmit huge amounts of data (including data it previously never had to access to) direct to Facebook without interference from the mobile phone software.

Of course, a nice big juicy screen strapped to your wrist pumping out all that data is also a great way to deliver Facebook’s adverts to users. Forget sliding an advert in amongst the news feed; how about an advert for a nice cold beverage just at the moment you’re feeling hit and standing near the right kind of shop? A leak from Facebook back in 2017 revealed they had the capacity to target ads based on people’s moods. Is it a huge leap to biometric targeting?

The Metaverse is not something that the average user is ready for and the hardware is still cumbersome and expensive. A wearable is comparatively inexpensive to make, easy to market and distribute, and could quickly become a “must-have” accessory for Instagram influencers with a voracious need to constantly share new content. In exchange, Facebook will want what it always wants – access to your data that it can use to target advertising at you.

My recommendation? Don’t put Facebook’s new lo-jack on your arm.

All (Good) Things Must Come To an End. Is Facebook dying?

Facebook isn’t cool any more and users are leaving in droves. Ad revenue is down and shares are plummeting just at the point when Marky Mark Zuckerberg needs every penny he can scrape together to build “the metaverse”; a virtual world in which people can work, play, and live out a fantasy existence where Facebook remains implausibly relevant for anyone under 25.

Incredibly it wasn’t helping Donald Trump rise to power, being one of the significant factors in the success of the Vote Leave Brexit campaign, Cambridge Analytica, or being home to all your favourite anti-vax swivel headed loons that blew a hole in Facebook. It was short form video and the rise of the teenage dance craze of TikTok.

Yes, not since line dancing, Lindy Hop or the Mashed Potato has copying dance moves been the cornerstone of such a mass movement. Facebook tried to catch up, launching its TikTok clone “Reels” on Instagram, but it’s never captured the zeitgeist like TikTok has.

The architects of “surveillance capitalism” at Facebook made two fatal missteps. They didn’t realise people like to be watched even more than Facebook liked to watch them and it worked too hard to keep what it had instead of thinking about where it needed to go to stay relevant. As Facebook battled governments, technology companies, and their own users over privacy concerns, TikTok captured a user base who were quite happy to dance around in their pants online… just as long as Grandma wasn’t watching.

Let’s eat, Grandma!

We’ve reached a stage where Facebook has perhaps simply existed too long.

When I joined Facebook is was in my 20s. Now I’m in my 40s and I’ve got kids. I don’t think Facebook is cool. My kids definitely don’t. And they sure as hell don’t want to be on the same social network as their old man.

No new users + Users leaving the platform + New Privacy rules = Trouble for Facebook.

This is, perhaps, the fate of all social media networks.

When I grow up, I want to be an influencer

Back when I joined Facebook, there was also no such thing as an “influencer”.

Celebrities endorsed products, not people who were only famous for already (somehow) being famous. Today being “Instafamous” has replaced real famous and if you’ve got an audience online it’s incredibly easy to monetise it.

Building an audience on a new network is much easier than on an established one. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are all crowded spaces. TikTok, however briefly, was virgin territory and a great opportunity for influencers to build their audience. We are into our second generation of online influencers now, savvy Internet natives who have grown up watching the generation before and who understand the game.

So, what happens next?

Facebook isn’t going to die tomorrow. A long lingering death beckons, a thousand cuts delivered by an army of regulators, competitors, and disengaged users.

Could someone buy it? Maybe, but you’re looking for a buyer with a huge amount of money and the appetite to take on a tarnished brand. After MySpace and Tumblr, I’d expect most businesses to be a little shy about the prospect of buying an ailing, but expensive, social network.

As much as I hate to say it, the metaverse might be Facebook’s only viable play. There are no formats left to move to – text, audio, video are all sewn up and easy to replicate. The metaverse is a new format, a new space that Facebook could control in a way it hasn’t been able to control the real world (no matter how much it has tried).

A prediction on search, Apple, and 2021…

Prediction: Apple’s rollout of “Ask App Not To Track” is the opening volley of a war with online advertising providers. Apple has been quietly building a search engine for years; it is preparing to disengage from Google and start to provide its own search & ads platform. 

Why would Apple do this? Because anti-trust hearings against Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon are putting privacy in the spotlight. Because America just shed its first “Social Media President” and lawmakers are rather keen not to have another in the same mould.

And because Google currently pay Apple billions to be the default search engine on the iPhone & iPad.

Google would only do that if they were seeing a return (and boy, are they ever) and its the type of cosy deal that the anti-trust lawmakers are going to want to snuff out.

My prediction for 2021 is Apple moving into the search and ad-business.

They’re already building a search engine, after all…

A bug meant Twitter Fleets could still be seen after they disappeared

Yesterday, I posted a short blog about the rollout of “Fleets” being paused because of issues with Twitters mobile apps.

Today, another problem has surfaced, one that calls the whole “Fleets” system into question.

  1. There’s a Twitter API that makes it easy to archive Fleets, so even after Twitter deletes them their content could still be available.
  2. Twitter themselves have admitted that they will be storing Fleets for 30 days or more after their supposed 24 lifespan

Twitter acknowledged that the fix means that fleets should now expire properly, it said it won’t delete the fleet from its servers for up to 30 days — and that it may hold onto fleets for longer if they violate its rules. We checked that we could still load fleets from their direct URLs even after they expire.

Looks like Twitter forgot the fundamental rule that The Internet Is Forever.

Once a piece of content is online, it is impossible to completely prevent it from being copied and stored by other people. The very fact that it has to appear on their screens and come out of their speakers means it can be captured. But, providing an API to download them directly? That was a rather questionable move…

Why would Twitter do it?

Third party apps are really important to Twitter. Their own app is not always the most popular way to access their service, especially amongst social media pros. Tweetdeck (once independent and then bought by Twitter) and Hootsuite lead the pack, but there is a whole ecosystem of products available to help individuals and businesses manage their social media channels. So, if Fleets are going to work in that space, an API is essential. Unfortunately, it also breaks the feature completely.

Can it be fixed?

Probably not. Snapchat, the original “disappearing social media message” platform held off on offering an API for years and when it did open one up, it was one way only – developers could post to Snapchat but retrieving data was not allowed.

Twitter aren’t in the same place but if Fleets are going to be less of a confusing mess, they need to clean up their API and probably block read access to Fleets completely.

Are Fleets good for SEO and should you be “Fleeting”?

All social media posts have a short half life but Fleets should, by their nature, disappear. So, for search engines, there’s nothing to link to – ergo they aren’t going to help your SEO.

Fleets, like tweets, can be good short term traffic boosters especially if you are working in a space where your competitors haven’t yet adopted them. Just make sure that the content of your fleets is worth your followers time in clicking through them…

Find out more:

The Fleeting Rollout of Fleets

Twitter has halted rollout of its new “Fleets” functionality just a few days after launch.

Reports of the Twitter app hanging and crashing would appear to be at the root of the problem, although the overall reception to the new feature has also been less than lukewarm.

Fleets are a strange addition to Twitter, especially with a user base who have been vocally crying out for functions to edit tweets, see better analytics on the performance of their tweets, and manage the contents of their feed. A clear copy and paste job from the Instagram “stories” feature, it would appear that Twitter decided it needed this functionality to compete with its pictographic rival from Facebook.

Given that Twitter exchanges can tend towards the more forthright in some instances, providing Twitter users with tweets that self destruct, leaving no trace on the network, is also a potentially dicey decision. It really is a gift to anyone wanting to spread misinformation, fake news, or abuse on the network… and maybe thats the bigger problem.

If Fleets turn out to be a bad idea, will Twitter be bold enough to roll them back completely?

Instagram goes all-in on Reels – and annoys its users

Instagram has released a controversial update to their app, replacing the “Create” button that uploads photos with a new button that takes the user into “Reels” – Instagram’s short-form video competitor to TikTok.

A new shopping button has also been added to the bottom bar, with the Explore button being relegated to the top right-hand corner of the app along with the old Create button.

The new buttons, taking the place of the old buttons

Instagram’s spin-machine was running at a full six-trillion RPM to try and convince its users this was anything other than a desperate attempt to claw users back from TikTok and squeeze shopping dollars out of users still loyal to the platform… and mostly failing.

Today we’re announcing some big changes to Instagram — a Reels tab and a Shop tab.

The Reels tab makes it easier for you to discover short, fun videos from creators all over the world and people just like you.

The Shop tab gives you a better way to connect with brands and creators and discover products you love.

Instagram’s users, meanwhile, were not convinced and the hashtag #instagramupdate has been trending on Twitter with users expressing their frustration with the platform. Broadly, and predictably, Instagram users don’t want the platform to turn into TikTok or Amazon.

Ouch… the votes speak for themselves here

Replacing features, or “pivoting”, without alienating existing users is a problem faced by social networks whenever a new competitor enters their space.

By offering something new, and a new space not yet dominated by existing creators, TikTok was able to grab a healthy chunk of people’s attention. Incumbent providers, like Instagram, fear their user engagement levels dropping as users turn their attention to a competitor and so are faced with a tough choice – double down on their original reason d’etre and focus on users who love their platform or play catch-up with copycat features to try and stop user attrition. Invariably, social networks seem to go for option B and, invariably, it’s unpopular… at least at the start.

It’s not the first time that Facebook or Instagram have released an unpopular update and I would expect them to weather this storm. A large chunk of their userbase don’t have friends or contacts or followers on TikTok and will relish the opportunity to jump on the short-form video bandwagon, especially as it’s relatively easy to download and repost from one platform to another. Facebook’s “Stories” is already heavily populated with re-posted TikTok videos and, in reality, it doesn’t matter to social networks where content is created – it matters where it is consumed.

And as for the shopping button? Well, the answer here is even more simple – capturing and retaining high value creators is another way to protect your social media platform. Giving creators an easy way to monetise their online presence makes Instagram an attractive prospect for a wide range on influencers who might otherwise migrate to other platforms. That merch don’t sell itself, right?

What should you do about Instagram and TikTok and your brand?

First and foremost, my first rule of social media promotion is that you don’t get to choose the platform. Wherever your customers are, which platform they are on, they are talking about you… hopefully.

So, if you may not think you’re a “TikTok” brand, but that’s not really your decision. If you want to engage with people who are on that platform then the only choice is to be on that platform.

But, just because you are moving to a new platform that doesn’t mean that you need to rework your brand to suit that platform. Your brand personality is your brand personality and your brand’s tone of voice should remain your tone of voice. It’s OK to adapt, but adopting a “false face” approach to social media is rarely successful.

What you can do very effectively is re-purpose content across platforms. Got a nice long YouTube video? Great, now:

  • Take screenshots from it, add in quotes, and post to Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn
  • Edit out short sections from it and post to Instagram Reels, Facebook Stories, and TikTok

Creating long-form content and then re-purposing it across different channels is one of the most cost-effective ways you can increase your output and reach on social media. In The Truth About SEO, I call it Write-Once-Publish-Often.

Facebook and Google to be forced to share advertising revenue with Australian media companies

With advertising revenue in free-fall as a consequence of coronavirus, Facebook and Google will be forced to share their advertising revenue with Australian companies after a landmark digital platforms inquiry in December, which led to the federal government asking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to develop a code between media companies and digital platforms.

The code was intended to require the companies to negotiate in good faith how to pay Australian news media for their content, make news agencies aware in advance of algorithm changes that could impact their business, give precedence to original news sources, and share data with the media companies.

The code was due to be in place by November 2020 but, unsurprisingly, there has been little success in early negotiations. Now, facing a sharp decline in advertising revenue and a struggling news sector, the government has handed the responsibility for writing the code directly to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

According to this report in The Guardian, the mandatory code will have the same elements as the proposed voluntary code, but would also include penalties and binding dispute resolution mechanisms for negotiations between the digital platforms and news businesses. It will also define news content that would be covered by the code, and will encompass services beyond Google search and Facebook’s main platform, such as Instagram and Twitter.

“This will help to create a level playing field,”

Josh Frydenberg – Treasurer

Why does this matter?

With Google now facing a similar situation in France after losing their court battle over advertising revenue generating using news from French media agencies, failing to reach a settlement has cost them vital leverage in Australia. They will now not have a hand in how this new code of conduct will be written, but they will need to adhere to it or face the penalities defined by the code.

There is an increasing groundswell of demand for change in the way that companies such as Google and Facebook monetise content that they didn’t create.

The question becomes – can Google be profitable if it actually has to pay people for the content it consumes?

The code about the code: Google’s crown jewels

But, this is about more than just revenue – there are two elements to the code that could fundamentally change how Google goes about its business.

The code will contain requirements for Google to “make news agencies aware in advance of algorithm changes that could impact their business” and “give precedence to original news sources

This means that Google are going to need to tell the news media in advance about changes to their algorithm. By definition, any change to the algorithm could affect traffic, and therefore revenue, and so the scope of this could be incredibly wide ranging. The problem here is that when Google changes the algorithm… it’s news. Will news agencies be bound by confidentiality clauses to ensure that they don’t pass on the inside knowledge they will gain about how Google ranks sites? Unlikely, given that this would, in turn, give them a competitive edge and lead to hard questions about who and what constitutes the news media.

This requirement mirrors a conundrum that Google faced in the UK courts recently when they were asked to share their algorithm with a court appointed “SEO expert” or withdraw statements about their algorithm worked from their defence.

Keeping the algorithm a secret is fundamental to Google’s business model – but this new code may force them to share more information about it than they ever have before.

What about the rest of us?

An increasing number of news sites are implementing pay-walls, requiring subscribers to pay a monthly subscription to read their articles. It seems strange, in 2020, to consider that an aberration but historically this was always the way that we consumed news. Newspapers cost money. Magazines cost money. Even the venerable BBC is subject to a license fee (that we pay with, yes… money).

I wrote about a possible way of paying websites for their content in this article earlier this month but is the real problem… us? Are we so used to getting news and information for free that we would baulk at the prospect of paying for news and information that we currently get for free?

Every time we use Google News or search for a blog post on Google, we play our part in transferring revenue from the content’s source to Google.

Perhaps what’s needed is a change in consumer behaviour. Next time you need a piece of information, perhaps it’s time to try a new search engine?

6 Reasons this could be the beginning of the end for Facebook.

The results are in… and Facebook’s stock has taken a 7% thrashing.

It’s not revenues that are causing a problem, there’s plenty of money still flowing through the Facebook machine and whilst people might have expected a better performance based on past history, Facebook still beat their own estimates.

No, I think this share slide is indicative of a platform, and business, that is heading into its twilight. When you take a good look at it, Facebook are facing the kind of threats that could really mean we are seeing the beginning of the end for the social media titan.

Scandals, oh… the scandals

The Cambridge Analytical scandal forced Facebook, and it’s definitely not camera-friendly CEO Mark Zuckerberg, squarely into the crosshairs of the government and the mainstream media.

Looking and sounding like a failed AI experiment hailing from deep inside the Uncanny Valley, Zuckerberg’s handling of the Facebook privacy scandal undoubtedly did damage to the business. For many people, they got their first good look at the type of person who makes a business out of codifying social interactions and monetising friendships. It wasn’t a pretty picture. (Sorry, Mark!)

It was the chink in the armour the mainstream media had been waiting for. Their own advertising revenues gutted by the likes of Facebook and their own influence waning, they went for Facebook all guns blazing. And they haven’t stopped…

Fake News!

It’s not just privacy that’s a problem for Facebook. Fake News was the buzzword of the past US Presidential election, with numerous allegations of interference by foreign powers using Facebook ads to influence the outcome of the election. The same allegations have been made about the UK General Election (both of them), Brexit, and probably The Great British Bake Off.

The net result is that far fewer people trust what they read on Facebook and not a month goes by without the media picking up a story about a scam, fraud, or outright lie being spread on the platform. I only needed to run one Google search to turn up the latest Facebook data scam, and it’s a big one…

Other social media platforms, notably including Twitter, have eschewed political advertising moving forward in the wake of this but Facebook has refused to limit or regulate advertising on its platform.

With Donald Trump’s team allegedly planning to spend over $20M on Facebook advertising for his re-election campaign, the gravy train will roll on for Facebook even if it’s heading full steam for the buffers.

In my opinion, Facebook’s best option would have been to ban political advertising as others have done. Why haven’t they done this? Well, perhaps $20M represents just the tip of a very, very big iceberg in terms of the political spending on the platform. Perhaps they believe they have the “right” to carry this advertising and can regulate it themselves or, perhaps, they simply don’t have a good mechanism for working out what is a political advert and what isn’t… Technologically, they are not the wunderkind they one were.

Facebook is Old

Facebook was once the new kid on the block. Praised for it’s clean and intuitive interface, it crushed MySpace beneath its calming blue jackboot and became the de-facto place to share cat memes, pictures of your kid’s birthday party, and engage in humble-brags and make vague, passive-aggressive mentions of how bad your day had been.

Since then, innovation hasn’t been something much associated with Facebook. Most changes it makes are clearly designed to help it make more money, not to improve the experience for its users and are roundly hated. You can’t spend more than a hour or so on Facebook without encountering somebody posting something like

This post serves as official notice that Facebook are not allowed to use my photographs, videos, or other data for marketing and are not, under any circumstances, allowed to sacrifice my children to the dark elder gods that they worship.

… Or something like that.

All in all, it’s not a *happy* user community and Facebook’s innovations, such as they are, have been restricted to gobbling up competitors before they get too big and then copying some of their more popular features.

Developing and maintaining Facebook is not cheap either, Facebook have 1,000 engineers working on privacy alone, their headcount has grown by 26% year on year, and costs are significantly up.

Facebook’s Users are old too

Facebook continues to report user growth, but outside of new and emerging markets it is slow, adding just 1 million users in the US and Canada last quarter. For Facebook, that’s a very small number. Growth in younger demographics is also very low. To put it bluntly – the kids aren’t down with Facebook.

Facebook is where your Mum and Dad hang out. Give it a few more years, and it will be where your Nana is too. Facebook is not cool and Facebook know it. They’ve got a decent timeline ahead of them milking their existing users, but it seems unlikely they are going to be able to recapture the explosive growth among young users they once enjoyed and this is resulting in slow profits from an investment perspective.

They’d need to do something really cool, really innovative. Like… er… crypto! Crypto’s cool, right?

Enter Libra

Yes, Facebook’s recent announcement, that they are going to create their own cryptocurrency “Libra” might look like a bold move, but only if you redefine bold to mean “brave enough to put a shotgun in your own mouth”.

Facebook has wanted to be an eCommerce business for years. First, there was their disastrous integration with Amazon, then they launched Facebook Store, which was discussed in depth in the most earnings call.

Yeah. So we’re doing a lot around commerce and payments because there are lots of different segments for what people are trying to do. In terms of buying and selling things, a lot of people want to buy and sell used goods. We have Facebook Marketplace for that. A lot of small businesses want to set up storefronts. We’re enabling that through Instagram and Facebook and then increasingly through Messaging as well.

Mark Zuckerberg

The holy grail here is, of course, not skimming off a percentage on transactions – it’s having all the data about what we buy. Libra, Facebooks’ cryptocurrency, should have been the focal point for this, but they’ve handed over control of that to the Libra Foundation, partly as a response to the massive scrutiny and the threat of regulatory interference from governments around the globe.

On the payment side, WhatsApp Payments will be a part of Facebook Pay. I mean, we announced this program last year that basically will make it so that if you pay for something in any of our apps, you only need to enter your credit card once, and then you can use that to have a more frictionless checkout experience across the other apps. So those two things tie in together.

Mark Zuckerberg

You can understand the nervousness in some sectors about this and why partners have been leaving the Libra Foundation faster than underage drinkers leave a nightclub when the lights go up. Think about it – A company that has been doing everything it could think of to convince us that it could be trusted and didn’t need to be regulated just told us that it wants to create its own untraceable, stateless, unregulated currency.

Seriously, what could go wrong?

Right now, there are near-constant rumors that Facebook will drop Libra but the company continues to throw its weight behind it, at least in public. Partners like Visa have stepped aside from Libra and personally I don’t personally think it will ever see the light of the mass market.

It does provide a very useful distraction from Facebook’s other big project though, one I think personally is the real big project inside Facebook right now. It’s something I’m calling…

The Great Unification

The two-headed beast of privacy scandals and political advertising has caused many people to ask if it isn’t time for regulation in the social media industry – starting with Facebook (which is also Instagram and WhatsApp).

Facebook is also facing two antitrust probes from the EU: The first is into Facebook’s proposed plans for Libra and the second is into how Facebook collects and monetizes user data.

Some regulators and politicians want to break the company up, separating its component parts to make it weaker and easier to control. Facebook don’t seem to want that and they are moving the chess pieces around the board to stop it from happening.

It seems like they are wise to the public appetite to impose some controls and sanctions on Facebook and so rather than fight regulation on the political or legal front, they are going to take the fight to somewhere they feel more comfortable – down into the code.

Facebook is making changes to the Facebook platform, Instagram, and WhatsApp to “unify” the applications onto a single infrastructure. Blurring the lines between where Facebook stops and the platforms begin, Facebook appears to be attempting to create a monolithic system that might be impossible to break apart. *Caveat – that’s just my assessment, based on the news.*

What does it all mean for Facebook?

How can it feel like the writing is on the wall for a company that just reported a colossal $21.08 billion in revenue? Why are the shares taking a knock when all the financial indicators look good?

Well, whilst some investors are definitely just looking at the comparative slow numbers, others are certainly thinking about issues like the ones I’ve discussed here. Are they even beginning to question the long term future of the company? Maybe it’s time to “get out while the getting’s good”.

For those of us on the outside, Facebook increasingly looks like yesterday’s platform – a solid and reliable performer turning over big revenue, but no unicorn. And the markets do love a sparkly, sparkly unicorn.