Facebook has announced one of the biggest overhauls in its history at its F8 developer conference. The changes saw a major revamp of the key feature of the site, the wall, while the overarching theme of the changes at the social network was media, with new classes of apps, especially ones focusing on music, movies, TV, news and books.
Facebook have hooked up with Spotify to produce a music app for your timeline, so that if a friend is listening to a song, it will show up in your newly-rebranded ‘ticker’ and you can listen to it too. The Guardian reports that other partners will include “TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, Audiovroom, earbits, Deezer, Rdio, SoundCloud, Rhapsody, Vevo, Mog, Jelli and others”.
Hulu, the American TV and movie streaming service, will be embedded in the social network, as will Netflix’s streaming service. You’ll be able to watch movies and television from within Facebook, straight from your stream. Other partners will include “Miso, IMDB, TF1, DirecTV”.
For news there’ll be an app for reading the Washington Post, News Corp’s The Daily, Yahoo News, as well UK newspapers The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent and The Economist. Social news aggregator Flipboard, The Huffington Post and other news services from around the world will also join the news apps. Plus you’ll see the news from your other members of your network in your stream.
The announcement means that a lot of partners will be funnelling their content directly into Facebook. One has to wonder how this will affect those services if no one has to go to their websites anymore. It obviously isn’t a one way street — the content providers are going to reach a lot more people than they might otherwise, and the demographic information they’ll get will be gold dust. However, a key question has to be how those content partners will monetise their content within Facebook's walled garden. Will Facebook share advertising with these content partners?
But Hollywood has shown itself to be a fickle master when it comes to rights. If it feels that it’s not getting its fair share (or more than its fair share) of the money that’s changing hands, it is more than happy to throw its weight around. Facebook now brings its own weight to the game, and certainly smaller content partners could be vulnerable to the industry heavies.
Facebook’s other big revelation was a huge reworking of your activity stream, now called the timeline. From The Guardian again:
Zuckerberg says the profile has been "completely rethought from the ground up", and is now called... Timeline. "Timeline is the story of your life, and it has three pieces," he explains. "All your stories, all your apps, and a new way to express who you are." [..]
The new Timeline profile will show everything you've done recently, but will cherry-pick "the most important" content from previous months and years. Things that Facebook deems not so important are hidden, but can still be accessed.
If you visit Facebook’s demo you can see the changes. The question is, has it changed for the better?
Web users are notoriously resistant to change. There’s a possibly apocryphal story from a decade ago about eBay wanting to change their design to turn a previously yellow box white. The uproar from users forced them to change it back to yellow, but over the following months they slowly decreased its yellowness until it was, eventually white. No one noticed.
Incremental development is often accepted more readily by users, but Facebook has instead gone for some major changes. Says the FT:
The new Timeline looks impressive and makes the service into more of a structured media/content property. It’s moving closer to becoming a complete social platform that will enable hundreds of millions of people to live their lives not in Windows or Apple’s iOS or even the browser, but just inside Facebook – a scary prospect or making the web a whole lot simpler and more social?
Twitter user @india_review certainly see the implications:
To me it means support tickets from family n friends.
Facebook may be aiming to become the one social network to rule them all, but it still has to please its users. While many Facebook fans welcomed the changes enthusiastically, others expressed concerns about privacy, a continuing issue for the site. Raj Anand, digital media strategist and Chief Marketing Officer Actualize Group, said:
The New Facebook (via f8), Make Stalking Even Easier.
Facebook said that it would have privacy options inline with the updates in the new timeline.
If the radical redesign doesn't alienate users or reignite privacy concerns, Facebook has made a bold step to consolidate its control on social networking. Moreover, with its tie in to media, music, television and movies, Facebook stands prepared to have a Adsense moment. Adsense, Google's search advertising platform, transformed the company from a useful service to a hugely profitable one. Facebook's changes give it the possibility to radically increase its earnings potential, not only solidifying its hold on social networking but also giving it the resources to face off any challengers.
For media companies, this shows how desperate they are to find a way to make money with their content in the digital economy. They might have agreed to the partnership with Facebook because they saw it as a hedge against Apple and one in which the social network is more willing to share customer data with them than Apple is. However, media companies are still ceding a lot of control to a middle man, and with that, they've just lost a lot of the power that made them so powerful in the 20th Century.