Facebook needs you to consume Stories, not news

Soon, Instagram will let users post Stories directly to their Facebook profile. This is huge. The launch of Stories has been a big success for Instagram. But Facebook’s own implementation of the functionality hasn’t seen widespread user adoption at all. With the latest move, Facebook makes clear that it is willing to do anything to make Facebook users consume Stories – even if the Stories “originally” have been uploaded to (Facebook-owned) Instagram.

By generating more Stories content on Facebook, the social network certainly hopes to create an additional opportunity to show ads. There is a natural limit on how many ads the company can show in the news feed before users get fed up. But, to speculate a bit, this is not the only reason for the introduction of a cross-posting feature from Instagram Stories to Facebook Stories: It might be simply that the Facebook management wants to get rid of the news feed altogether.

The news feed is the cause of many of Facebook’s current concerns and public conflicts in regards to fake news, (foreign) election meddling and the erosion of democracy and its institutions. Without the news feed, these issues would presumably become much less impactful. Even Stories can be utilized for malicious purposes, but Stories are created and consumed differently than the news feed, with a much bigger focus on people’s personal experiences, not world news. Re-purposing external content for viral distribution via Stories is, at least for the moment, harder, as is viral sharing. That could change in the future. But as a functionality in an early stage of its life cycle and with few to no expectations from Facebook users about their interaction with Stories, Facebook has the opportunity to leverage its learnings from the past to shape (and limit) Stories in a way so they’ll be less susceptible to systematic democracy hacking.

The news feed has become to Facebook what the Diesel now is for German car manufacturers: A big headache. The only reason why Facebook has to stick to it is because as long as the news feed is the heart of the Facebook experience, this is where people see ads, and so this is where Facebook needs people to spend as much time as possible. But there is no reason to believe that Facebook sees the existence of the news feed as essential to its future. In fact, in 2017 the news feed has become a weakness of Facebook, if not actually a threat to it. Aggressively pushing people to Stories is the best way for the company to put itself into a position where it can let go of the feed and all the issues associated with it.

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Stories, the Blockchain and the chance for a reboot of social networking

Here is a German version of this article.

Currently it looks as if the Stories format invented by Snapchat and copied and popularized by Instagram will become one, if not the major component of social networking. While predicting its exact adoption trajectory is impossible, one can not rule out that in 2018, the number of users who consume other people’s Stories or who contribute with their own, will cross the 1 billion mark. It would be a shame if this growth segment would be completely left to the 2 currently dominating, centralized and rather closed players.

But even suggesting that an open alternative to Snapchat Stories and Instagram Stories is desirable likely puts many people off – understandably. After more than a decade of failed attempts to create successful social networking services based on open principles, decentralized infrastructure and data portability, one has to be a hardline optimist to still believe in such a possibility. It seems as if the common approach of centralized, ad-financed and data-hoarding platforms has unequivocally won.

Or maybe it hasn’t. With the rise of the Blockchain technology, there is reason for hope. With the Blockchain – in simplest terms a distributed database managed by a peer-to-peer network – new approaches to developing and operating a social network are becoming feasible. Continue Reading