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Matt's Monday digital digest - Issue #84

Good morning, let's talk Facebook... and maybe some other stuff...
Matt's Monday digital digest - Issue #84
By Matt Taylor • Issue #84 • View online
Good morning, let’s talk Facebook… and maybe some other stuff…

Facebook's feed change
It’s been on the cards for a while, and in Mark Zuckerberg’s New Year address he committed himself to changing the way information was consumed on the platform to try and solve some of the problems Facebook has brought to the world in terms of a boundless ability to misinform.
Last year we had a growing discontent in the political spheres with tech giants, particularly Facebook; with former President Sean Parker talking openly about how the platform was built to exploit human behaviour and psychology; and former Product Manager Antonio Garcia-Martinez talking about how micro-targeted advertising was the company’s heritage even as it was used to target Nazis.
And this year is off to a bang with a news-focused news feed patch, heavily deprioritizing page-posted content on user feeds. One that was potentially trialled-in-extreme earlier and resulted in a 2/3 drop in reach for pages, and 4x fewer interactions. It is certainly looking to me like that kind of significant move rather than the tweaks that have been suggested year after year.
Zuckerberg has started January by shifting the focus of news feed product teams from ‘finding relevant content’ to creating 'more meaningful social interactions’. This means significantly less content from pages you follow, and news outlets in general, and substantially more content from your actual 'friends’.
The news feed change will be just the start of a large shift in the product’s focus, and may have many further implications down the line, but publishers, especially those focused on large Facebook followings, are in for a shock as the change goes live over the year.
But how can Facebook, which has built itself on being a sticky-engagement platform, measuring itself on likes, time sunk, and seconds watched, evolve into something that cares little about these facts so long as your likes are 'good likes’, your seconds 'quality seconds’. 
Internally it seems quite easily: employees, from talks with BuzzFeed, seem almost jubilant about the opportunity to stop courting news organisations as a traffic driver and get back to the product and problem at hand. The move to drive third-party content off the feeds of many users is also hoped to perhaps bring back some of the first-party sharing that Facebook has over the years lost to private, harder-to-monestise spaces like WhatsApp, iMessage and Instagram. And in terms of defining quality, the platform has been working for years to try to eliminate the power of click/engagement baiting content.
Ultimately to me it seems that Facebook are quite serious in changing their product here: the news feed has languished with only minor changes for many years, and an overhaul is necessary to bring engagement back to the platform that it is losing to competitors (admittedly many of which is owns).
Though it will sting for media that are heavily reliant on traffic from their pages, that is ultimately all they ever had, and I hope those businesses will prioritize relationships with readers as a result. In the end this may help ensure the independence of organisations now too-reliant on tipping their hat to the Silicon Valley giants.
And on working our way through this, more businesses optimised on trust, veracity and human storytelling, especially those that resonate with local audiences, will succeed.
Facebook Finally Blinks
The Difficulties With Facebook’s News Feed Overhaul
If Facebook stops putting news in front of readers, will readers bother to go looking for it?
Facebook’s newsfeed changes: a disaster or an opportunity for news publishers?
Facebook Couldn't Handle News. Maybe It Never Wanted To.
And elsewhere!
WaPo hits 2nd year of profitability, plans expansion
This Is the Data Snapchat Doesn’t Want You to See
In this trends report we have publishers suggesting 2018 will be a drawback from social platforms, with messaging and dark-social becoming more relevant; digital advertising losing ground to subscription and reader-driven support; AI driven/supported reporting/production; and voice platforms.

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Matt Taylor

This is the week that was in digital media and its intersect with technology, with all the interesting stories you might not have found elsewhere, or should definitely read again if you did.

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