In case you haven’t noticed, a veritable slew of new features and updates to old features have hit Facebook this week. First, a quick recap before we get into the context of what it all means:
Subscribe: Now regardless of whether you’re friends with a person on Facebook, you can subscribe to their status updates. It’s similar to Twitter, where you can follow whoever you want and it doesn’t necessitate a two-way relationship.
Lists: In an attempt to bolster privacy features and cut-down on the unorganized mess better known as the News Feed, Facebook renewed its focus on lists. Smart Lists now automatically group friends according to proximity and school, and a few other pre-sets offer suggestions to group them into lists like Family, Close Friends, and Acquaintances. You’re also free to make you own lists, and each has its own News Feed.
New News Feed and the ticker: The updated News Feed categorizes stories based on how often you visit Facebook and includes a blue icon on things it considers top stories. The ticker allows you to interact with friends’ activity via a rolling, ever-updating bar so you don’t have to leave the home page.
And of course, there’s what Facebook is due to announce once f8 actually begins: Some big changes to the Like button. Apparently there will be buttons that now say “read,” “want,” and “need.”
Pair all this with the fact that Facebook’s event will follow a theme titled “Read. Watch. Listen.” and it’s beginning to look like we’re witnessing a massive step in the site’s evolution. Facebook is about to become a media site.
This has been in the makings for awhile and isn’t all that surprising. Facebook has been priming itself to be more than just a platform for posting pictures and talking to your friends: It’s about monetizing and distributing content. Any why shouldn’t it be? That’s how the site will continue to make money. Profits from advertising are one thing, but having an actual business model that turns the site into something that distributes various goods for revenue is something else entirely.
Part of tomorrow’s announcements will include the fact that Facebook is partnering with various media companies that follow along with “Read. Write. Listen.” “Read” will relate to its deal with Yahoo, “Watch” with a host of video streaming sites, and “Listen” its much-anticipated music service, which will likely integrate a variety of music applications like MOG and Spotify. This is a little outside of Facebook’s typical comfort zone. The social media giant isn’t one to enter into big partnerships like these, although we had warning this was coming when Mark Zuckerberg said the site wanted to build on top of itself with the best the Internet had to offer.
At that same event, Zuckerberg talked about how Facebook had become a huge platform for sharing content. Originally, the site was about communicating with your immediate social network, and along that line it became about distributing information that’s interesting to you (which might be a Twitter effect, but something Facebook’s still obviously capitalizing on). At the time, the Facebook CEO presciently said the site was done measuring its effectiveness by user numbers. “I think that chapter is more or less done,” he said, pointing out that the value people get from a product, the apps they use, and how much they are sharing via the site are more important.
And that’s why it isn’t surprising that Facebook is taking this new route. But what are the consequences? Well, for one, the site is less personal that it used to be. This has obviously been happening for awhile, and we will give Facebook points for attempting to keep our social networks social via Lists. Admittedly, it’s the best way to actually see updates from those you consider close contacts.
In fact, all the new features just introduced and previously explained are more like an acquiescence on Facebook’s part. It’s like the site knows it’s about to do something that will dramatically change its core and these additions are attempts to keep part of what it used to be alive. The Lists and News Feed revamp and ticker are all applications that connect you to who you want to be connected to –- not what you want to be connected to. These friend-centric features may offset the effects of integrating with the likes of Yahoo, Spotify, Rdio, Vevo… this list has a lot of potential and is only going to grow.
Reactions will be what they always are: Outrage followed by acceptance. But the social network is still an ill-defined thing that is being thrown in a lot of different directions. Sites like Instagram, Tumblr, and Posterous are having an effect on what this platform looks like, and Facebook continues to try and innovate here.
The best way to summarize the change is that users are no longer sharing what they’re doing. Your Internet history is sharing what you’re consuming.
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