If you are worried about “hacked” democracy, quit Facebook

During a recent panel discussion, The Exponential View’s Azeem Azhar and a couple of invited expert guests talked about democracy’s vulnerability in the age of information technology and social media (you can listen to the recording here). As probably surprises no one, Facebook’s role in the weakening of democracy and its institutions came up several times. And, as also should surprise no one, there was little optimism among the participants about that dubious characters will suddenly stop leveraging Facebook through bots, micro-targeting, fake news and the creation of alternate realities to undermine democratic values and essential shared minimum consensus.

But there is something everyone who is worried about the damage of social-media-enabled manipulation to the public discourse, can do: quitting Facebook. Continue Reading

I stopped using Twitter and Facebook, but shareholders wouldn’t know

In their quarterly reports, publicly listed social networking companies highlight several key performance indicators (KPI). One of the metrics they often emphasize is “daily active users” (DAU). Facebook reached 1.28 billion DAU on average for March 2017. Snapchat reported 166 million DAU for Q1 2017. Twitter doesn’t specify the number of DAU in its quarterly reports, mentioning only a “14 % year-over-year increase” for DAUs for the most recent quarter, and 328 million monthly active users (MAU).

The DAU metric is useful to evaluate young companies with still a comparatively low number of users, since it clearly shows the growth rate over time. For maturing companies which have been around for a while, I’d argue that the DAU metric is a weak measurement of a company’s ability to engage and retain users. Here is why:

In November, I stopped tweeting and reading my Twitter timeline. Early 2017 I significantly reduced my use of the Facebook app (not counting Messenger, Instagram or WhatsApp, of course). I’d estimate that I cut the time I spend with both services by 90 %. But if you only look at the DAU, this drastic reduction would not be reflected. Because I still almost every day check both apps at least once in order to have a quick look at the notifications. Just in case. If you, like me, frequently publish stuff on the Internet, you might get mentioned/tagged somewhere, and it’s nice to know.

Nevertheless, my contributions to the bottom line of these two apps have shrunken dramatically, because I hardly see any advertisements anymore. I don’t scroll through the news feed nor the timeline. On most days, I spend no more than at max a few minutes with Facebook and Twitter. On average, Facebook earns $17,07 per year from a user in the U.S. and Canada, and $5.42 from a user in Europe. Assuming that my usage of Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger (the latter two are essentially not monetized at the moment) remains stable in 2017 and that my usage in 2016 was completely average, then this year, Facebook will generate significantly less revenue with my activity compared to last year’s $5.42.

The DAU metric masks negative changes in user patterns of long-term users, but these are in fact what matters when evaluating the outlook for mature social networking services. Only the radical step of deleting one’s account would be reflected in the DAU metric, at least in aggregate terms. I’d argue that this is not how most people actually behave. Rather, they’d grow increasingly tired and decrease their usage over time, while still wanting to be able to do quick checks on notifications, events, live streams or whatever. While these users are not totally lost (and Facebook is doing a brilliant job of keeping them engaged through their other apps), they nevertheless mean a reduction in revenue potential for the particular service. Even if this would be the case for millions of users who reduce their usage, shareholders would not see it when looking at the DAU.

Therefore, as much as publishing DAU numbers can be considered an improvement over the totally useless MAU, it’s still just an arbitrary vanity metric that masks actual changes in user behavior in order to entice investors.

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Facebook, Uber and the outsider’s harsh perspective on Silicon Valley

Two companies based in the Silicon Valley (which not geographically but culturally includes San Francisco) have been making headlines over the past days: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published his globalization manifesto and Uber was confronted with the extensive, high-profile revelations of a former female engineer about the company’s systematic ignorance of sexism and generally hostile work culture.

Both stories have led to widespread criticism. In the case of Uber, it’s obvious why. But even Facebook’s manifesto, despite having been an active PR effort, was not received too well in the media. When the leader of the arguably most powerful company in the world outlines how he wants to use that power to shape the world, few are getting enthusiastic. Two of the negative responses to these stories stuck out though: They didn’t come from the usual suspects who professionally cover or comment on technology but from representatives of other firms. They also didn’t only focus on the specific matter, but used the occasion for a direct attack on the Silicon Valley way of doing things. Continue Reading

Zuckerberg’s globalization manifesto says: “it’s really, really… really complicated”

That’s the type of coincidence I like: Just a few days after I opened a blog post with the rhetorical question about what’s keeping Mark Zuckerberg up at night, the Facebook CEO published an extensive open letter titled “Building a global community”, offering a few hints (reading time according to Instapaper: 23 minutes).

In what certainly must be called a “manifesto”, Zuckerberg offers his view on why globalization is experiencing a backlash and outlines on which principles Facebook will attempt to help tackling these issues.

Significant self-criticism is (unsurprisingly) missing. The text lacks any sincere acknowledgements of possible direct causations between certain unfortunate global trends and the rise of Facebook – which grew from 0 to almost 2 billion active members within only a bit more than 10 years.

Continue Reading

Zuckerberg’s Lock-in Effect

What’s keeping Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg up at night? Is it imaginable that he, despite public denials, feels at least some kind of worry about Facebook’s prominent role in the dramatic reshaping of the political landscape and the increasing polarization that can be witnessed in many countries? Does he ever have doubts about whether the company lives up to its promise to “make the world more open and connected” in the long run? Could the 32-year-old at least occasionally ponder the possibility that the sweeping changes that are shaking the foundations and structures of modern societies, might be much more sever due to Facebook?

Only Mark Zuckerberg himself knows the honest answer. But let’s for hypothetical reasons entertain the idea that the creator and head of history’s probably most influential company at least wouldn’t totally rule out negative effects that his platform’s dominance has on trust in democracy and on the ability of public consensus-building – it tragically would not matter. Zuckerberg wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. And that despite him having managed to retain so many voting rights that he technically can do whatever he wants – as long as it serves the company goals, of course. Continue Reading

The U.S. election & Facebook’s other problem

Facebook might just face its biggest crisis since the founding more than 12 years ago.

A lot of people think that the social network’s newsfeed impacted the US presidential election by fostering filter bubbles and by encouraging (and benefiting from) the politically motivated creation and distribution of fake news. The allegations have been surfacing more frequently over the past months. Ater the surprising victory of Donald Trump, the pressure on the company to fix flaws is mounting. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just published his thoughts on the issue, emphasizing the “extreme” unlikelihood that hoaxes changed the outcome of the election in one direction or the other. However, he promises improvements and further research into the matter nonetheless.

We’ll see what the company comes up with. But while many eyes are focusing on the factual issue of the newsfeed algorithm’s impact, the crisis includes a second dimension of trouble for the social networking giant, and it’s a significant one: The allegations pose a huge threat to Facebook’s internal unity and employer brand. Continue Reading

Smart Home: Google, Apple and Microsoft are watching the cake while Amazon is eating it

Here you can read this article in German.

The success of Amazon’s voice-controlled personal assistant Echo is by many considered a surprise. It’s easy to understand why: There was comparatively little media hype after its launch, the product category was unproven and Amazon’s track record regarding hardware products (other than the Kindle) has been rather mixed. But one and a half year after its release, the device, which so far can only be purchased in the US, has become a huge hit, highly rated by both Amazon reviewers as well as the technology crowd. Furthermore, thanks to the Echo, Amazon’s smart assistant software Alexa has become a poster child for the thriving category of artificial intelligence-powered assistants.

Here is what’s at least as surprising as the rise of Echo: The absence of competing products by the other big three: Google, Apple, Microsoft. Continue Reading

Facebook’s strength is Mark Zuckerberg’s foresight

This article is also available in German.

To me, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the most impressive person of the past 10 years. Stating that does not mean that I have no critical thoughts on Facebook. I do. But looking at achievements in both professional and private life, on personal growth and on having a vision and sticking to it in the short and long-term, I am not aware of any other contemporary public person with a similar track record.

There is one thing which I am especially amazed about when it comes to Zuckerberg: His bold acquisition decisions which are repeatedly characterized by the following pattern: First they seem insane, but over time, they look smarter and smarter. Continue Reading

Mini-posts: Snapchat vs Facebook, app unbundling, Stockholm’s tipping point

I’m trying out a new format with a post comprising of 2-3 mini-posts about trends and news from the tech world. A maximum of 10 sentences per post.

4 billion video views
Snapchat has announced 4 billion daily video views. Usually I would not pay any attention to such a vanity metric. But in this case, the number allows for an enlightening comparison: Just a couple of months ago, in April, Facebook reached the same milestone of 4 billion daily video views (sidenote: YouTube did so in the beginning of 2012). Facebook has almost 1 billion daily active users, compared to Snapchat’s nearly 100 million daily active users. The videos on Snapchat are extremely short, presumably much shorter than those on Facebook. That aside, an average Snapchat user views 10 times as many videos a day as a Facebook user. No surprise Snapchat is so hot.

Unbundling works – for Google and Facebook
Last year, many major Internet companies started to move certain features from their existing apps into newly launched, separate apps. “Unbundling” (or “app constellations“) was the latest trend, utilized by all the big names. A new comScore report shows for which companies this has worked the best: Facebook and Google (which in fact had been relying on this strategy for quite some time already). Among the top 10 most popular smartphone apps in the U.S. on iOS and Android combined, 3 are owned by Facebook (Facebook, Messenger, Instagram), and 5 by Google (YouTube, Search, Google Play, Google Maps, Gmail). Pandora Play and Yahoo Stocks are the only apps within the top 10 that are not owned by either company. Facebook’s initially controversial move to spin-off Messenger totally paid off. Meanwhile, unbundling did not work so well for other tech giants. Related news: Just this weekend, Google released Street View as yet another seperate app.

comScore

Stockholm’s tech tipping point
The VC fund SparkLabs recently published a ranking of the 10 hottest startup ecosystems in the world, and Stockholm ranked second after the Silicon Valley. While the accuracy of these kind of reports always can (and should) be questioned, the good result of the Swedish capital did not surprise me. In fact, it seems apparent to me that the city has reached its tipping point. From now on, past success and experience helps to build new, even bigger successes, with guaranteed international attention. Last Wednesday I attended a great conference, Stockholm Tech Fest. The amount of local bigshots among the speakers who shared their insights and experiences was astonishing. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, Skype-founder and seriel entrepreneur/VC Niklas Zennström, Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski, Delivery Hero CEO Niklas Östberg (Berlin-based but Swedish), Truecaller Co-founder Nami Zarringhalam were among the speakers. I am truly excited about what comes next.

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Facebook Instant Articles will launch with European partners The Guardian, BBC, Spiegel, Bild

Usually I do not intend to publish breaking news on meshedsociety.com. But what to do when a certain kind of newsworthy information just finds its way to you? As someone who has been covering tech daily for many years, ignoring it would feel like a big sin.

Although admittedly, most facts about this particular news have already been circulating as rumors. An open secret, so to speak. So here is the deal:

Facebook officially unveils today (Wednesday) that it will host “native” content from well-known publishers inside its mobile app (update: link to the announcement). The feature will go live with a couple of launch partners in the U.S. (among others The New York Times, National Geographic and The Atlantic) starting from today.

For the German market, the launch will happen in a few weeks, starting with two major publishers: Der Spiegel and Bild. Other international media brand that are partnering with Facebook for the “Instant Articles” feature are The Guardian and BBC. Continue Reading