Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier has an interesting long-form article looking at the reasoning behind Facebook’s impending shift from the one-note “Like” to the more complex “Reactions”.
The most drastic change to Facebook in years was born a year ago during an off-site at the Four Seasons Silicon Valley, a 10-minute drive from headquarters. Chris Cox, the social network’s chief product officer, led the discussion, asking each of the six executives around the conference room to list the top three projects they were most eager to tackle in 2015. When it was Cox’s turn, he dropped a bomb: They needed to do something about the “like” button.
The like button is the engine of Facebook and its most recognized symbol. A giant version of it adorns the entrance to the company’s campus in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook’s 1.6 billion users click on it more than 6 billion times a day—more frequently than people conduct searches on Google—which affects billions of advertising dollars each quarter. Brands, publishers, and individuals constantly, and strategically, share the things they think will get the most likes. It’s the driver of social activity. A married couple posts perfectly posed selfies, proving they’re in love; a news organization offers up what’s fun and entertaining, hoping the likes will spread its content. All those likes tell Facebook what’s popular and should be shown most often on the News Feed. But the button is also a blunt, clumsy tool. Someone announces her divorce on the site, and friends grit their teeth and “like” it. There’s a devastating earthquake in Nepal, and invariably a few overeager clickers give it the ol’ thumbs-up.
Changing the button is like Coca-Cola messing with its secret recipe. Cox had tried to battle the like button a few times before, but no idea was good enough to qualify for public testing. “This was a feature that was right in the heart of the way you use Facebook, so it needed to be executed really well in order to not detract and clutter up the experience,” he says. “All of the other attempts had failed.” The obvious alternative, a “dislike” button, had been rejected on the grounds that it would sow too much negativity.
Cox told the Four Seasons gathering that the time was finally right for a change, now that Facebook had successfully transitioned a majority of its business to smartphones. His top deputy, Adam Mosseri, took a deep breath. “Yes, I’m with you,” he said solemnly.
Later that week, Cox brought up the project with his boss and longtime friend. Mark Zuckerberg’s response showed just how much leeway Cox has to take risks with Facebook’s most important service. “He said something like, ‘Yes, do it.’ He was fully supportive,” Cox says. “Good luck,” he remembers Zuckerberg telling him. “That’s a hard one.”
The solution would eventually be named Reactions. It will arrive soon. And it will expand the range of Facebook-compatible human emotions from one to six.
I came across Joshua Topolsky’s article in The New Yorker predicting the fall of Twitter into irrelevance on Facebook, funnily enough. I would say that, as a Twitter user who rarely uses the service, the issues Topolsky identifies speak to me.
It wasn’t that long ago that I—and many other people I know—would have argued that Twitter was more than just another social network. I would have told you that Twitter was more like a utility, a service so fundamental that I could imagine a scenario in which it was literally underwritten. Twitter needed to exist. A stream of those hundred-and-forty-character tweets was how you found the most crucial, critical, and thought-provoking stories of the moment.
[. . .]
But cracks in Twitter’s façade had been showing already. Changes to the product made it hard to follow conversations or narratives. A lack of rigor in verifying reliable sources made information suspect or confusing. More troubling was the growing wave of harassment and abuse that users of the service were dealing with—a quagmire epitomized by the roving flocks of hateful, misogynistic, and well-organized “Gamergate” communities that flooded people’s feeds with hate speech and threats. The company seemed to be wholly unprepared to handle mob violence, with few tools at its disposal to moderate or quell uprisings. Even its beloved celebrity users couldn’t be protected. In August of 2014, Robin Williams’s daughter, Zelda, was driven off the service after a series of vicious attacks.
Of course, getting noisy isn’t the only problem Twitter has today, though it seems to be one of the more pronounced symptoms of a company that has lost its direction, or, more worryingly (and perhaps more accurately), never had much direction to begin with. After a summer of turmoil and indecision—a summer spent largely rudderless after the resignation of the C.E.O., Dick Costolo—the company reappointed its co-founder, the Silicon Valley wunderkind Jack Dorsey, and signalled that, perhaps for the first time in a long time, Twitter could find its focus.
That focus would have to come fast. In the yearlong stretch leading up to Dorsey’s return, the number of active users on Twitter only grew by eleven per cent. Even more troubling was the service’s penetration in the U.S.: it remained completely flat for the first three quarters of 2015. Facebook has surpassed the company by orders of magnitude, but it’s hardly Twitter’s only foe. Instagram, WhatsApp, and even WeChat all now have more individual users than Twitter does. Snapchat has almost caught Twitter, too.
In Facebook’s case, the company has demonstrated its mastery of product focus and long-term commitment to user experience. While Mark Zuckerberg’s empire sent users sloshing to and fro on the seas of privacy invasion in its early years, the past five years have seen the company come to dominate and define the concept of a social conversation. If users get abusive on Facebook, they’re dealt with. If someone wants to wage a campaign of noise and intrusion, the repercussions are varied and plentiful. You may not agree with Zuckerberg’s “one identity” concept, but the fact that people have to register their real names has certainly made Facebook a much safer space in which to engage. That’s to say nothing of its mobile and ad offerings, which the company has finally paired elegantly, allowing Facebook to take an even larger bite of mobile-ad dollars. The company closed its latest quarter with revenue up a whopping fifty-one per cent year over year.
Meanwhile, a series of mediocre product changes at Twitter (such as the much-hyped but ultimately confusing Moments feature), a stagnant user base, and a massive executive brain drain have called into question whether Twitter can survive as a business. In the past week, the company has lost its vice-president of media, V.P. of product (to Instagram, natch), its head of the growing video service Vine (to Google), its V.P. of engineering, and its H.R. head. Unsurprisingly, the company’s stock has lost about fifty per cent of its value over the past three months.
But what should worry Twitter isn’t the value of its stock. (USA Today reported that, given its cash reserves, the service could run for another four hundred and twelve years with current losses.) What should worry Twitter is irrelevance, and there is growing data to suggest that that is where the company is headed. If Twitter’s real-time feed is its most powerful asset (and it is), it’s not difficult to see a future in which Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or even a newcomer like Peach (yes, I am citing Peach) focus enough on real-time news that they obviate the need for Twitter’s narrow, noisy, and oft-changing ideas about social interaction. Considering the fact that Kevin Weil, the head of product, left the company to join Instagram, it’s easy to imagine that service mutating or bifurcating into a speedier, more social platform for sharing links and having conversations. And, for many users—particularly young users, according to a recent survey—Snapchat is already their most important destination. We live in the Age of the Upgrade, and the generation raised on the Internet is the most fickle of brand champions: it loves something passionately, until it doesn’t. Then it moves on.
Going through IWPR’s recent archives, I was very surprised to see the article “LiveJournal Returns in Kazakstan, But Now Facebook is King”, by one Botagoz Seidakhmetova, which noted that the ban on Livejournal had been lifted in Kazakhstan in November after four years. That it had been banned at all is something I had been unaware of–Global Voices had noticed this back in September 2011, but I had not seen it.
The authorities in Kazakstan have unblocked the LiveJournal blogging website, four years after shutting down access to it.
A government statement on November 11 said the decision was taken after unlawful material – religious and extremist propaganda and information about weapons – were deleted.
[. . .]
Commentators suspect that LiveJournal incurred anger because opposition leaders based abroad used it as a platform for attacking the government. One was Rahat Aliev, former son-in-law of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who went into exile after being prosecuted, and proceeded to publish allegations of wrongdoing by Kazakstan’s leaders.
Aliev is no longer a threat to the government – he committed suicide in a Vienna prison in February 2015.
In all likelihood, LiveJournal is no longer relevant since most of its users have shifted to Facebook.
Pavel Bannikov, a Russian-language poet who used to use LiveJournal, recalls how influential it used to be – literary journals would find new content on the site and approach writers to seek permission to print their poetry.
“It’s good that LiveJournal has reopened. But in Kazakstan, LiveJournal won’t become what it was in 2007, when everyone used it as a news source,” Bannikov added. “I’ve noticed that in the last three years, virtually all the active, engaging users – the ones you’d like to read and hear their views – have gone over to Facebook.”
In that Livejournal, no longer a global contender, seems to be now substantially limited to the Russophone world, that it has been so thoroughly kneecapped in one of the largest Russophone countries about is not a good sign. The damage inflicted just can’t be reversed, not without some further and wholly unexpected shift.
Centauri Dreams looks at the latest findings from repurposed Kepler.
The Dragon’s Gaze examines the stars of the apparently most habitable exoplanets found by Kepler and speculates as to the impact of stellar cosmic rays on the habitability of worlds in red dwarf systems.
The Dragon’s Tales examines the differences between carbon emissions from different Indonesian fires.
Lawyers, Guns and Money notes how black pain has been ignored at least as far back as the end of slavery, when black families tried to reunite.
Marginal Revolution notes North Korean incomprehension of American motives.
The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer applauds the Mexican soda tax.
Towleroad notes crime in the United Kingdom visited on users of Grindr.
Window on Eurasia suggests that the good bits of the 1990s are underestimated by many Russians and warns that Kadyrov’s appropriation of North Caucasian traditions risks encouraging Islamism.
When the monthlong marathon of men’s fashion shows kicks off this week, so will the scrimmage to cover it: the race by newspapers, magazines, television networks, social media platforms and blogs to get a piece of the action for themselves and their viewers.
Joining the melee for the first time will be Grindr, the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) social-networking app primarily for gay men. On Sunday, the app will live-stream the fall 2016 men’s wear show of J. W. Anderson as it hits the runway at London Collections: Men, the city’s biannual men’s fashion week.
Grindr’s purview has admittedly been narrow. The app introduces users to others in the surrounding area who are looking to make a connection — as often as not, a sexual one. Its buffet of thumbnail-size photos is, by design, bare-bones (and, not infrequently, bare-chested).
Joel Simkhai, the founder of Grindr, takes it easy at home in Los Angeles. The app was born of an idea made possible by technology and a $2,000 grubstake.
“Grindr is a very, very visual experience,” the app’s founder and chief executive, Joel Simkhai, said in an interview in 2014.
So, of course, is fashion — even if Grindr is more traditionally thought of as being for those dispensing with clothing than acquiring it.
This does surprise me a bit. I had noticed a trend earlier towards the decline of local alternatives to Facebook and thought it a harbinger of globalization, i.e. the shift to a few major social networks worldwide. Will WeChat continue to resist? Might it yet push overseas, and if so, how?
WeChat, the mobile messenger app that’s been downloaded to more than a billion smartphones in China, is struggling to break into the North American market in the face of entrenched Western players and cultural differences.
About 650 million active users message each other, buy products, book travel and read news daily via the online social network that is perhaps more aptly described as an ecosystem.
Despite exponential gains in East Asia and a promotional campaign launched with high hopes in the U.S. in 2014, WeChat — owned by Shenzhen-based Internet giant Tencent — opted to cut off advertising overseas in 2015 as user growth plateaued.
User acquisition in the West “has sort of come to an end,” Tencent president Martin Lau Chi-ping told reporters in March.
Ning Nan, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, highlighted Tencent’s lack of customer base or local networks in the U.S. as a key barrier to competing against instant messaging heavyweights like Facebook.