How Facebook's Thinking About Its War With TikTok
Social media has transformed, and Facebook along with it. Or at least it’s trying.
Big Technology is a weekly newsletter dedicated to covering the tech world with honest, nuanced reporting. Join the 80,000+ subscribers who tune into Big Technology for tech news without the spin. Here’s an easy way to subscribe:
The Facebook survey looked bleak. Young adults told the company its main app was irrelevant, negative, and undifferentiated. They said it was for older people. And increasingly, they were right. The average Facebook user’s age jumped by more than five years between 2013 and 2021, opening the door for TikTok.
Now, as TikTok surges, Facebook is responding. The company’s accepted that some of its core app’s fundamentals are off. That sometimes, the most “social” interactions with “media” happen in private message threads, not feeds. And that content from friends and family, while intriguing, can pale in comparison to content suggested by AI. So Facebook is transforming itself to adapt.
“Relevance of content, or being irrelevant, or Facebook being cluttered, that's really top of mind,” said Tom Alison, who runs the Facebook app, in an interview this week. He’ll have his work cut out for him.
Facebook came of age when discovery on the internet was limited. If you wanted to find something before Facebook, you’d generally search for it (or go to Yahoo). The company’s original innovation was to connect you with friends and family who’d share articles, images, and videos you’d find interesting. It would push you content, instead of making you look for it.
The original Facebook model had two key flaws, however: 1) After an early surge of interest, people grew tired of broadcasting, so sharing declined, and 2) The internet contained more interesting stuff than what first-degree connections recommended, making Facebook recommendations feel a bit dull.
As Facebook hit maturity, YouTube and TikTok took advantage of its flaws. They used AI to comb through billions of videos and recommend what people, personally, would find interesting. Then, when someone found something they liked, they’d share it via text — not feeds — with close friends. Many young people, coming online for the first time, skipped Facebook entirely in favor of these mediums. They also went to Instagram for content and WhatsApp for sharing, causing the “blue app” to lose its luster.
After again pushing friends and family content to the fore a few years ago, Facebook’s finally accepting the world’s moved on. It’s still going to show you stuff from people you know. But in an attempt to reinvigorate its feed, it will show you content from elsewhere more often. It’s also going to split its feed into two, with a “Home” tab of Reels and Stories taking precedence.
Facebook’s move toward recommended content acknowledges that its fundamental innovation is no longer enough. “People feel like, gosh, I'm going to open the app; I know that there's millions or billions of people on Facebook,” said Alison. “I want to see what Facebook and this huge set of people have for me.”
Facebook also seems ready to optimize its feed differently. While it’s optimized for time spent and in-feed engagement in the past, Alison indicated that people share differently now. He seemed thrilled about the idea of people finding content they like on Facebook and discussing it, privately, in messages with their friends. “Is a post where somebody shares more valuable than a pretty in-depth discussion with a friend on a messaging thread?” Alison asked. “I'm not so sure that kind of calculation makes sense. I think people want to connect in a variety of ways.”
Facebook will thus add messaging back into its main app, hoping to inspire conversations about content people find in its feed. It’s also working to improve the quality of that content, announcing this week that people can adjust what they see in feed by marking ”show more” or “show less”. And when it measures success, Facebook isn’t only concerned about time spent, but how often people come back to its app.
The critical question for Facebook will now be whether it can keep its identity — or forge a new one — without turning into a cheap TikTok clone. It’s open.
“We haven't completely figured out the right way to integrate short-form video,” said Alison. “It's still a big kind of journey for us.” Getting it right will determine the future of the 2.9 billion-user app, which is facing stiffer competition by the day.
Build the best remote team with UpStack's world-class software developers (Sponsored)
UpStack helps you find the best developer for your project. Assess your needs in a quick, 15-minute discovery call with our Client Success Team. That’s all it takes to start our search for your perfect match within our pre-vetted candidate pool.
What Else I’m Reading
Self-driving cars are stuck. Robot companies pledge to be peaceful. Musk’s ambitions are shrinking. What Musk’s Twitter might look like. Amazon is hiring 150,000 people. Peloton is cutting another 500. TikTok emulates Instagram. The Supreme Court is taking a Section 230 case. Terraform Labs’ Do Kwon says that the frozen $39 million ain’t his. Coinbase made a movie. Amazon suspended workers who walked off after a fire. Credit Suisse hit with a social media frenzy.
Number Of The Week
Decline in Ark Invest’s Innovation ETF in 2022
Quote Of The Week
“We believe that the fed is going to be quite surprised at the deflationary pressures that start hitting the headline inflation numbers during the next 3-6 months”
Ark Invest CEO Cathie Wood on CNBC this week suggesting the Fed is being too aggressive in its rate hikes, which have hammered her firm’s tech-heavy funds
Advertise with Big Technology?
Advertising with Big Technology gets your product, service, or cause in front of the tech world’s top decision-makers. To reach 80,000+ plugged-in tech insiders, please reply to this email. We have availability starting in October.
This Week On Big Technology Podcast: Inside Facebook's Plan To Fend Off TikTok — With Tom Allison
Tom Alison is the head of the Facebook app at Meta. He joins Big Technology Podcast for a discussion about the company's plan to compete with TikTok and appeal to younger users. Join us for a conversation about the Facebook product, one that veers into questions of its identity as a service that helps you keep in touch with friends and family while introducing you to content relevant to your interests. Stay tuned for the second half where we discuss Meta's plans to whether the bear and market and focus on its core while still experimenting.
Thanks again for reading. Please share Big Technology if you like it! And hit that heart if you dig funky transformations.
Questions? Email me by responding to this email, or by writing email@example.com
News tips? Find me on Signal at 516-695-8680