In Facebook's dreams it is a clean and private place. People spend their time having thoughtful discussions in "meaningful" groups, planning offline meetups with events, or laughing together in a Facebook Watch party.
In reality, Facebook is a messy mess of features that seem to constantly leak using data. People waste their time watching inane newsfeed posts from "friends" they never talk to, envious stalking through pictures of peers, or chowing on click-bait articles and viral videos in isolation. Facebook will never shake this reputation if it just keeps polishing its old features.
Therefore, Facebook rolls out which can be called an "aspirational redesign" known as FB5. Instead of polishing what Facebook was, it tries to spotlight what it wants to be. "This is the biggest change we've made on the Facebook app and site in five years." Mark Zuckerberg, CEO said to open Facebook's F8 conference yesterday.
The New Facebook
Most noticeably, it starts with the sucking lot of the blue out of the Facebook interface to make it look sparse and soothing – despite a More button that uncovers the social network's bloating in dozens of rare used features. A new logo has a lighter blue bubble around Facebook's distinctive white f, which attempts, but a more uplifting spin on a bruise.
Functionally, FB5 means placing groups near the center of a new flat interface for both Facebook's website and app, and suggests new ones to join across the service. "Everywhere there are friends, it should be Groups," says the leader of the Facebook app Fiji Simo. Groups already have 1 billion monthly users, so Facebook follows the behavior pattern and doubles down. But Facebook's goal is not just that 2.38 billion people use the feature – the same number that uses the whole app, but to get them all meaningful groups that symbolize their identity. 400 million already. And now, special interest groups like game or health support will get special features, and the power users will get a dashboard of updates in all their communities.
Groups will be flanked by Marketplace, perhaps the Facebook feature with the most latent potential. It's a fast growing use case that Facebook will burn. Only a year and a half after launch, Marketplace had 800 million monthly users. Zuckerberg took Craigslist, added real identity to counteract bad behavior, and is now bolted to the navigation bar of the most widely used app on earth. The result is a place where it is easy to put things for sale and get tons of views. I once sold a sofa in the marketplace in 20 minutes. Now, merchants can make payments directly into the app instead of cash or Venmo, and they can offer to ship items anywhere at the buyer's expense. By following Zuckerberg's mandate that focuses on trading in 2019, Facebook has become a viable Shopify competitor.
If Groups is already working on Facebook's future, Watch is the opposite. It's a product designed to capture the video view Bonanza Facebook observes on Netflix and YouTube. But without the tent stick content such as a "Game of Thrones" or "Stranger Things", it has not succeeded in influencing the cultural zeitgeist. The closest way to watch video is Buffy The Vampire Slayer-re-runs and a docus series on NBA star Steph Curry. Facebook claims 75 million people now look for at least one minute per day, although the 60 seconds must not be sequential. There are still only 4 percent of users. And a Diffusion study found 50 percent of adult American Facebook users had never even heard of Watch. Sticking it forward and in the middle demonstrates Facebook engagement to look at a hit, even if it has to hug it in the throat.
Not the old Facebook
Previous products received little love on stage at F8. Nothing new to News Feed, Facebook's mint, but also the source of its misinformation. At the age of Snapchat and Zuckerberg's beginner insistence on ephemerality to prevent embarrassment, Timeline profile got chronic throughout your Facebook life, something to mention. And pages for businesses that were the center of their revenue growth strategy years ago, found no place in the keynote, similar to how they have been exhibited by the news stream of competition and Facebook's philosophical shift from public content to friends and family.
The one thing we heard a lot about, but in fact not so much of was privacy. Zuckerberg started the conference and declared "The future is private!" He talked about how Facebook plans to encrypt their messaging applications, how it will be a living room rather than just a town hall, and how it follows the shift in user behavior away from broadcasting. But we did not see any new privacy protection for the developer platform, a replacement for its top security officer who has been vacant for nine months, or the Clear History feature Zuckerberg announced last year.
"I get that many people are not sure we are serious about this. I know we don't exactly have the strongest reputation for privacy right now, to put it lightly." Zuckerberg joked without seeming to generate a single laugh. Combined with having little to show to improve privacy, making fun of such a bad situation, doesn't give much confidence. When Zuckerberg takes things seriously, it quickly manifests itself in the product as with Facebook's 2012 shift to mobile, or in the company that with 2018's doubling of the security head. He knew that mobile and content misfeeds could kill his network. But does anyone who told Time magazine in 2010 that "What people want is not complete privacy" really looks like a loose attitude to privacy as an existential threat?
Interoperable, encrypted messages will increase privacy, but it's also only good business logic given Zuckerberg's intention to own chat – the heart of your phone. Facebook's creepiness stems from it sucking in data to provide powerful ad targeting. Nothing new was announced to address it. Despite his words, Zuckerberg may not want to make Facebook as private as he hoped to make it mobile and secure.
Wired reported that Zuckerberg wrote a strategy book that was given to all employees ahead of IPO who noted "If we don't make things that kill Facebook, someone else will." But F8 offered a new interpretation. Perhaps the lack of direct competitors in their league, and the absence of mass emigration over their constant privacy scandals, was the outdated product that even killed Facebook. The permanent Facebook. All-you-do-is Facebook. They chained my friends to Facebook. The users were neglected, rather than pushed or stolen. By ignoring the past and emphasizing the products it wants to dominate tomorrow – Groups, Marketplace, Watch – Facebook can start unchaining itself from the poisonous mark that poisons its potential.