Facebook overhaul’s big winner is Facebook

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Facebook’s recent reboot positions the network as a hub for consuming all kinds of media. But brands that create this content should be wary of what they might be giving up by getting involved.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at the F8 conference in San Francsico last week that the social network has partnered with a selection of media companies including music streaming service Spotify, newspapers The Guardian and the Independent, and US film streaming service Netflix. Each will have an app on which users can listen, read and watch without leaving Facebook.

The big draw for content creators is Facebook’s growing power to pull in users, as a new style of ’discovery engine’ to rival traditional search. Zuckerberg’s much heralded concept of “frictionless sharing” means that, by giving permission once, users will automatically share all their actions inside an app without Facebook asking each time.

On Facebook’s new ’ticker’, users will get real-time updates about what their friends are doing in these apps. The idea is if someone you know is looking at something interesting, you will immediately want to subscribe to the app to do the same.

That’s the upside, but everything else about Facebook’s new design takes the relationship with consumers and advertisers out of the hands of the content creator. The Guardian, for example, currently has two or three in-app display ads running on each page of its Facebook app. All other ad inventory around the page is Facebook’s.

That might be fine if all the traffic on the Guardian’s Facebook app is incremental growth on top of its own website traffic. But the likelihood is that many Guardian readers using the app will be doing so instead of using the website, just because they happened to be on Facebook already and decided it was easier to stay there.

Content creators are also restricted in the data they can collect and own: Facebook’s terms require that app developers only request the user data necessary to run an app. And unless a user gives further explicit permission, data gathered cannot be used outside Facebook. The content creator gives up the one-to-one relationship it could have with consumers by requesting their data on its own platforms.

There is not even a guarantee this gambit will pay off as far as Facebook is concerned. The fact that users’ interactions with media content are now made public automatically already has many people animated, and there is a chance users could be prompted to become less, not more, open with how they share their lives on social media.

This is not just Facebook’s attempt to bring social sharing to the internet; it is Facebook’s attempt to be the internet, full stop. App developers are wandering less into a walled garden than into an entire fortified kingdom, where every website is an app.

It is even a kingdom that already has its own currency, in Facebook credits. These are the virtual coinage by which transactions are carried out in social games on Facebook and, like another landscaper of walled gardens, Apple, Facebook takes a 30% commission on any purchase made with them. Games have to use the credits at present; other apps do not, but will that last?

Though Facebook’s dwell times and ad rates might soar, content owners should be under no illusions. First and foremost, this overhaul is not Facebook’s strategy for monetising your content – it is Facebook’s strategy for monetising Facebook.

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