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Facebook Unveils a Design Overhaul as a Part of Pivot to Private Messaging

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Facebook Inc debuted an overhaul of its core social network on Tuesday, taking its first concrete steps to refashion itself into a private messaging and e-commerce company as it tries to move past scandals while tapping new revenue sources.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a fresh design for the world’s biggest social network that de-emphasised its News Feed. It also ditched the signature blue banner that has been on the app since its launch.

The new design showcases Facebook’s messaging app, online marketplace and video-on-demand site, while giving greater prominence to the popular photo-driven Stories feature.

The company also rolled out features aimed at encouraging users to interact with their close social circle as well as with businesses, such as a “Secret Crush” option for Facebook Dating and a tool for appointment booking.

“As the world gets bigger and more connected, we need that sense of intimacy more than ever. That’s why I believe that the future is private. This is the next chapter for our services,” said Zuckerberg, speaking at Facebook’s annual F8 conference, where the company gives developers a peek at product releases.

Investors greeted the announcements, mostly launching lower-margin businesses, with a lukewarm response. Facebook shares ended down 0.7 percent on Tuesday.

Zuckerberg in March promised changes to the advertising-driven social media company, which has come under regulatory scrutiny over propaganda on its platform and violations of users’ data privacy.

He identified private messaging, short-lasting stories and small groups as the fastest-growing areas of online communication. In the last three years, the number of people using Facebook’s WhatsApp has almost doubled.

Building up those more intimate and encrypted forms of communication could also reduce pressure on Facebook to clean up misinformation and abusive content. In the wake of its scandals, the company has spent heavily on tools to catch banned material.

This is what new Facebook will look like on the desktop
Photo Credit: Facebook

 

The social media company is now working on “LightSpeed” in order to make its Messenger app smaller and faster.

Facebook will also introduce a desktop version of Messenger for Mac and Windows and launch a feature called “Product Catalogue” for WhatsApp Business. The desktop app will be available this fall.

Later this week, Facebook will run a test in Canada for a major change to its Instagram app that would remove the number of likes on photos as well as video views from users’ feeds, permalink pages and profiles.

Facebook had delayed rolling out certain products at last year’s F8 event, which came soon after revelations it inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

“I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly,” Zuckerberg said.

Other Facebook executives introduced changes within the Messenger and Instagram apps aimed at helping businesses connect with customers, including appointment booking and a tool to lure customers into direct conversations with companies via ads.

The online ad market is largely dominated by Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google. But the field is more diverse for messaging, e-commerce and payments, with big players like Amazon.com Inc , Microsoft Corp and eBay Inc as well as fast-growing Silicon Valley unicorns like workplace messaging app Slack and video conferencing service Zoom Video Communications Inc.

“We’ve shown time and again as a company that we have what it takes to evolve,” Zuckerberg said.

Making money
The shift also comes as Facebook is looking beyond advertising for future income.

Facebook pulled in nearly $56 billion in revenue last year, almost of all which came from showing ads to the 2.7 billion people who access its family of apps each month.

But the company is no longer adding many new users in the United States and Europe, its most lucrative markets, and it must find additional sources of revenue if it is to sustain growth.

facebook messenger watch videos together Facebook MessengerFacebook Messenger’s new feature will let users watch videos together
Photo Credit: Facebook

 

The product releases at F8 indicated that its answer involves efforts to keep users on its apps for longer, coupled with e-commerce tools Facebook is hoping businesses will pay to use.

Features that drive the most user engagement, like Stories and videos, are being decked out with new tools and given increased prominence across the platforms.

One new feature will allow users to watch videos together in Messenger, while also viewing each other’s reactions in simultaneous texts and video chats.

Facebook Dating will be expanded into 14 new markets, including places in where Facebook has high user growth. The “Secret Crush” feature will allows users to explore potential romantic relationships within their friend circle.

New shopping and other business-to-consumer interactions, already popular in Chinese social apps like WeChat, could also help squeeze revenue out of Facebook’s messaging services.

Instagram is expanding a sales system introduced last month, allowing public figures, known as influencers, to tag products in their posts so fans can buy them right away.

Sellers on Marketplace will likewise be able to receive payments and arrange shipping directly within Facebook, while users of WhatsApp and Messenger will be able to send money to each other as easily as sharing a photo, Zuckerberg said.

© Thomson Reuters 2019

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Twitter bans James O’Keefe of Project Veritas over fake account policy – TechCrunch

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Twitter has banned right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe, creator of political gotcha video producer Project Veritas, for violating its “platform manipulation and spam policy,” suggesting he was operating multiple accounts in an unsanctioned way. O’Keefe has already announced that he will sue the company for defamation.

The ban, or “permanent suspension” as Twitter calls it, occurred Thursday afternoon. A Twitter representative said the action followed the violation of rules prohibiting “operating fake accounts” and attempting to “artificially amplify or disrupt conversations through the use of multiple accounts,” as noted here.

This suggests O’Keefe was banned for operating multiple accounts, outside the laissez-faire policy that lets people have a professional and a personal account, and that sort of thing.

But sharp-eyed users noticed that O’Keefe’s last tweet unironically accused reporter Jesse Hicks of impersonation, including an image showing an unredacted phone number supposedly belonging to Hicks. This too may have run afoul of Twitter’s rules about posting personal information, but Twitter declined to comment on this when I asked.

Supporters of O’Keefe say that the company removed his account as retribution for his most recent “exposé” involving surreptitious recordings of a CNN employee admitting the news organization has a political bias. (The person he was talking to had, impersonating a nurse, matched with him on Tinder.)

For his part O’Keefe said he would be suing Twitter for defamation over the allegation that he operated fake accounts. I’ve contacted Project Veritas for more information.

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Consumer groups and child development experts petition Facebook to drop ‘Instagram for kids’ plan – TechCrunch

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A coalition of 35 consumer advocacy groups along with 64 experts in child development have co-signed a letter to Facebook asking the company to reconsider its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under the age of 13, which Facebook has confirmed to be in development. In the letter, the groups and experts argue that social media is linked with several risk factors for younger children and adolescents, related to both their physical health and overall well-being.

The letter was written by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group that often leads campaigns against big tech and its targeting of children.

The group stresses how influential social media is on young people’s development, and the dangers such an app could bring:

“A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to adolescents. Instagram, in particular, exploits young people’s fear of missing out and desire for peer approval to encourage children and teens to constantly check their devices and share photos with their followers,” it states. “The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and wellbeing. Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships, and their inner sense of strengths and challenges during this crucial window of development,” the letter reads.

Citing public health research and other studies, the letter notes that excessive screen time and social media use can contribute to a variety of risks for kids including obesity, lower psychological well-being, decreased quality of sleep, increased risk of depression and suicide ideation, and other issues. Adolescent girls report feeling pressured to post sexualized selfies for attention from their peers, the letter said, and 59% of U.S. teens have reported being bullied in social media, as well.

Another concern the groups have is the use of the Instagram algorithm which could suggest what kids would see and click on next, noting that children are “highly persuadable.”

They also point out that Facebook knows there are already children under 13 who have lied about their age using the Instagram platform, and these users will be unlikely to migrate to what they’ll view as a more “babyish” version of the app than the one they’re already using. That means Facebook is really targeting an even younger age group who don’t yet have an Instagram account with this “kids version.”

Despite the concerns being raised, Instagram’s plans to compete for younger users will not likely be impacted by the outcry. Already, Instagram’s top competitor in social media today — TikTok — has developed an experience for kids under 13. In fact, it was forced to age-gate its app as a result of its settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which had investigated Musical.ly (the app that became TikTok) for violations of the U.S. children’s privacy law COPPA.

Facebook, too, could be in a similar situation where it has to age-gate Instagram in order to properly direct its existing underage users to a COPPA-compliant experience. At the very least, Facebook has grounds to argue that it shouldn’t have to boot the under-13 crowd off its app, since TikTok did not. And the FTC’s fines, even when historic, barely make a dent in tech giants’ revenues.

The advocacy groups’ letter follows a push from Democratic lawmakers, who also this month penned a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to express concerns over Facebook’s ability to protect kids’ privacy and their well-being. Their letter had specifically cited Messenger Kids, which was once found to have a design flaw that let kids chat with unauthorized users. The lawmakers gave Facebook until April 26 to respond to their questions.

Zuckerberg confirmed Facebook’s plans for an Instagram for kids at a Congressional hearing back in March, saying that the company was “early in our thinking” about how the app would work, but noted it would involve some sort of parental oversight and involvement. That’s similar to what Facebook offers today via Messenger Kids and TikTok does via its Family Pairing parental controls.

The market, in other words, is shifting towards acknowledging that kids are already on social media — with or without parents’ permission. As a result, companies are building features and age gates to accommodate that reality. The downside to this plan, of course, is once you legitimize the creation of social apps for the under-13 demographic, companies are given the legal right to hook kids even younger on what are, arguably, risky experiences from a public health standpoint.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood also today launched a petition which others can sign to push Facebook to cancel its plans for an Instagram for kids.

Instagram Letter by TechCrunch on Scribd

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Facebook to test new business discovery features in U.S. News Feed – TechCrunch

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Facebook announced this morning it will begin testing a new experience for discovering businesses in its News Feed in the U.S. When live, users to tap on topics they’re interested in underneath posts and ads in their News Feed in order to explore related content from businesses. The change comes at a time when Facebook has been arguing how Apple’s App Tracking Transparency update will impact its small business customers — a claim many have dismissed as misleading, but nevertheless led some mom and pop shops to express concern about the impacts to their ad targeting capabilities, as a result. This new test is an example of how easily Facebook can tweak its News Feed to build out more data on its users, if needed.

The company suggests users may see the change under posts and ads from businesses selling beauty products, fitness or clothing, among other things.

The idea here is that Facebook would direct users to related businesses through a News Feed feature, when they take a specific action to discover related content. This, in turn, could help Facebook create a new set of data on its users, in terms of which users clicked to see more, and what sort of businesses they engaged with, among other things. Over time, it could turn this feature into an ad unit, if desired, where businesses could pay for higher placement.

“People already discover businesses while scrolling through News Feed, and this will make it easier to discover and consider new businesses they might not have found on their own,” the company noted in a brief announcement.

Facebook didn’t detail its further plans with the test, but said as it learned from how users interacted with the feature, it will expand the experience to more people and businesses.

Image Credits: Facebook

Along with news of the test, Facebook said it will roll out more tools for business owners this month, including the ability to create, publish and schedule Stories to both Facebook and Instagram; make changes and edits to Scheduled Posts; and soon, create and manage Facebook Photos and Albums from Facebook’s Business Suite. It will also soon add the ability to create and save Facebook and Instagram posts as drafts from the Business Suite mobile app.

Related to the businesses updates, Facebook updated features across ad products focused on connecting businesses with customer leads, including Lead Ads, Call Ads, and Click to Messenger Lead Generations.

Facebook earlier this year announced a new Facebook Page experience that gave businesses the ability to engage on the social network with their business profile for things like posting, commenting and liking, and access to their own, dedicated News Feed. And it had removed the Like button in favor of focusing on Followers.

It is not a coincidence that Facebook is touting its tools for small businesses at a time when there’s concern — much of it loudly shouted by Facebook itself — that its platform could be less useful to small business owners in the near future, when ad targeting capabilities becomes less precise as users vote ‘no’ when Facebook’s iOS app asks if it can track them.

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