Boywithadaimonring
 Photo courtesy of Emad/Stablity.ai via Twitter

The Verge reports on the internal challenges at Meta aka Facebook and how the company is trying to deal with it. Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Meta has painted Apple as enemy number one. I mean, why not. A slight change has lopped off billions in revenue and market capitalization. “Apple is going to be a competitor for us, not just as a product but philosophically.,” Zuck said. “It’s a very deep, philosophical competition about what direction the internet should go in.”

I am unsure what direction Apple wants to take us, but I can bet my last dollar; I don’t want to be in the future of the Internet that Zuckerberg is trying to build.

Our north star is can we get a billion people into the metaverse doing hundreds of dollars a piece in digital commerce by the end of the decade? If we do that, we’ll build a business that is as big as our current ad business within this decade. I think that’s a really exciting thing. I think a big part of how you do that is by pushing the open metaverse forward, which is what we’re going to do.

Meta’s north star doesn’t take into account value to the users, the benefit to the larger ecosystem or even the experience. Instead it is about how the company’s users time can be translated into dollars for the sole benefit for Meta. So, yes, there is a philosophical difference between them and Apple.

As someone unable to trust the founder and the company, I am not surprised that Zuck hasn’t changed. Surprisingly, he was more blatant in admitting his end goals without trying to polish the turd. It’s become pretty clear that the addiction-engagement loop perfected by Facebook without zero understanding of the consequences will not go away.

Once a shitty company, always a shitty company.

Recommended reading: How harmful is social media/The New Yorker

July 30, 2022. San Francisco

Phone with social media icons next to a laptop.
Photo by Zhivko Minkov on Unsplash

The Internet has been abuzz following a post by Kylie Jenner, an influencer famous for being the sake of being a famous person. On Instagram, where 360 million Instagram accounts follow her, she said Instagram must stop trying to copy TikTok and remain Instagram so she can see cute photos of her friends. First, to be precise – the original post was created by Tati Bruening, who has 315,000 followers. 

Kylie being Jenner that she is, added “Pleaseeee” and took the attention away from the original post. Soon, family doyen Kim Kardashian and others from the clan of famous Internet people joined in. It got the headline machines humming. And the melee has become a significant news story – I mean, it’s not like we are dealing with war, climate crisis, or inflation. 

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What has Instagram done that the Kardashians & the Jenners are so upset? Earlier in July 2022, the company decided any video under 15 minutes can and will be converted into a “Reel.” Reels, in case you were not following, are a clone of short-form TikTok videos. Recently, TikTok made it so that the videos on the service could be up to 15-minuteslong. So obviously, Facebook had to match them feature for feature. 

Instagram will take the video posted by any public account – someone like Kylie “The Crying” Jenner – and automatically push it into a recommendation algorithm, only to be shown to other accounts based on how people react to that video/reel. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you are Kylie, Kim, or Krayzie; your videos (aka Reels,) their popularity, and the engagement around them are no longer in your hand. The algorithm is the boss.  

And that is why I wasn’t surprised that the Jenners and Kardashians were upset about this move. This new development renders their hundreds of millions of followers less valuable than they once were. Kylie is rumored to make between $650,000 to $1 million per post from companies and brands who wanted her to promote their wares. They could point to 360 million followers as a proxy for their power and reach. 

What the clan is really complaining about is the harsh reality that changes limit their ability to monetize their hundreds of millions of followers. If they can’t get the reach, or the engagement, eventually, their hundreds of millions of followers aren’t as important.

In his book, Get Rich or Lie Trying, journalist Symeon Brown astutely noted that on “Twitter and TikTok, viral users require wit. On YouTube, personality pays. Yet on Instagram, the way we look is carefully self-curated for the consumption of others. In other words, the platform thrives on lustful thirst.” It is why any change to a TikTok-like platform threatens the likes of Jenner. 

To be relevant, they need to do something more than just look cute and sexy.

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As I pointed out earlier on Twitter, the reason Facebook is making these massive and radical changes to be more TikTok-like is that it fears that the Chinese-owned social network has become a clear-and-present-danger for the Metamachine. 

TikTok users spent 19.6 hours on average per month on the app, according to data.ai. Already average time spent on TikTok exceeds Facebook. More than 40% of Gen Z spends more than 3 hours a day on TikTok. No matter how you look at it, Facebook is in mortal combat with TikTok. 

The front-facing camera, the portrait mode, full-screen video, and algorithmically generated content have made “attention” a zero-sum game. Once you are locked in, you are not going anywhere else. And this is what has freaked Zuck out.  

“We’re sort of in this pretty intense period for the next 18, 24 months,” Mark Zuckerberg is said to have noted in a late June all-hands meeting. “It’s possible it’s even a little bit longer.” He is back at his ruthless best.

And it is pretty evident if you read this excellent report on The Verge. The article outlines a series of challenges the company is facing, both internal and external, and how Zuck is dealing with it. 

Copying TikTok as fast and as completely as possible, even at the risk of alienating its current very active and large user base, is the kind of move Zuckerberg makes when he feels his back is against the wall. I have watched Zuck for a long time – from the earliest days of Facebook – and know that once he digs in his heels, there is not much anyone can do. 

Everyone eventually finds out that there is only one king in the Zuckverse.

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As for Kylie, Kim, and millions of others hoping to go back to the old ways of doing things, it is not going to happen. Instagram’s chief Adam Mosseri said as much in a video message he shared on Twitter. He made three points — and in bold text, I am trying to decode them for you. 

  • “New full-screen version of feed is a test for a few percentage of people out there. This full-screen experience, not only for videos, but for photos will be more fun, engaging experience.” (As I said above, full-screen video is a way to lock in the attention – the algorithm will keep recommending things to keep you logged in.)
  • “I know a lot of you out there love photos to that said I need to be honest, I do believe that more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time we see this even if we change nothing.” (We got to do video, or else we would lose out to TikTok. It doesn’t matter, we will make you watch more videos.)
  • “The third thing I want to talk about the recommendations, recommendations are posts in your feed from accounts that you do not follow. The idea is to help you discover new and interesting things on Instagram that you might not know even exist.” (Social is dead, long live the algorithm.)  

To sum it up, Mosseri (whom I once cruelly compared to Tariq Aziz of Facebook) is saying that it doesn’t matter what you want. It is what Zuck wants. As a result, Instagram is now all about video, video, and video. And that isn’t going to change. Mosseri is saying that you might love photos, but Instagrammers, you can go pound sand. You and your photos are going to live with little or no attention. And while you are processing that bad news, let me tell you (on behalf of my boss) — your friends, social relationships, and your communities are dead – now you exist solely in the obeisance of the algorithms. 

Oh, by the way, thanks for doing an excellent job of helping train our algorithms and helping make our visual data more accurate. From now on you, what you will see when you will see, and who you will see are going to be determined by the algorithm.

In summary, even the illusion that social media is about social, friends, and connections is over. Peo le don’t define the platform; it is the platform that owns you. Not even Kylie or Kim.

July 26, 2022. San Francisco.

Facebook, if nothing else, is good at diverting attention away from itself and its pesky public relations nightmares. It doesn’t matter how bad things get – they know that everything becomes the proverbial fish wrap in time.  

Do you even remember that it was not even a week ago when The Facebook Papers dominated the media cycle? Me neither! I had already forgotten what it was all about. The slush of repetitive media coverage based on internal documents was nothing more than just a public relations headache. 

It was an easily solved problem. Change the company’s name (start with a careful leak,) throw in some vision, whip up a slick video, and then on the day of the annual developer conference, rename yourself, Meta. Facebook’s new name comes from Metaverse, which according to its CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the future of the internet where you are “in the experience, not just looking at it,” and “it will touch every product we build.” 

Even if you believe that Zuckerberg has been thinking about this for a few years — I don’t have any doubts about it — the timing of this announcement is expedient and shows that they are and will be masters of media manipulation.  

“It is a political strategy too, part of a broader push to rehabilitate the company’s reputation with policymakers and reposition Facebook to shape the regulation of next-wave Internet technologies, according to more than a dozen current and former Facebook employees,” reported The Washington Post. It will allow the company to “turn the conversation away from such urgent but distasteful matters as the massive antitrust lawsuit filed last year by the Federal Trade Commission.”

All this talk about Metaverse is an excellent way to refocus the attention to the future and away from its present problems. A video that essentially uses a video-game-like interface, Facebook can wash its hands off reality and whatever toxicity of the reality. After all, it is all just a game. You can’t be any angrier about fake information being shared in the metaverse than you can be angry about running over someone in grand theft auto.  

Strategically, the decision makes sense as well. Facebook needs to be independent of hardware and operating system platform owners, Apple and Google. The recent brouhaha with Apple over tracking and privacy has exposed the vulnerability of Facebook’s advertising business. All this talk about the Metaverse and billions of dollars in spending on new hardware-centric opportunities is an excellent signal to Wall Street that they have a strategy to keep the stock flying in the future. It also allows the company to achieve its long-standing goals — a single sign-on for all its products — Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. “I think it’s helpful for people to have a relationship with a company that is different from the relationship with any a specific one of the products, that can kind of supersede all of that,” Zuckerberg told The Verge

That said, it doesn’t solve the one big hairy problem: young people don’t give a shit about Facebook, no matter what banner they hang outside their headquarters. “Facebook was invented on campus for people to get laid, “a long-time observer of the social media sector quipped. “Meta was invented in a conference room.” The person pointed out that Metaverse demos are  what they think is “cool” based on research reports 

“It’s a stretch to believe Facebook can make that work, especially for a company that has shown little development in the nearly ten years since IPO,” wrote Tiernan Ray, a veteran technology writer, in his critique of the big VR bet by Facebook. “There is no evidence the company can organically innovate its way out of being mainly the Web site for old people, as Zuckerberg now characterizes his creation.” 

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