(2018-01-15) Battelle Maybe Facebook Should Abandon The News Feed Altogether

John Battelle: Maybe Facebook Should Abandon the News Feed Altogether. There was a time, about a decade ago, when for a brief moment I thought Facebook would become the platform underpinning the open internet.

Ten years ago, Facebook announced “Platform,”

As a startup CEO at the time, I resisted Platform — it struck me as madness to build your value on the shifting sands of someone else’s domain unless it had very clear values which aligned with the open web. Facebook Platform’s terms of service were pretty draconian, and I predicted, rightly if ineffectually, that Facebook would end up screwing over its partners as it began to colonize the most profitable platform applications

By 2012 Facebook had pretty much abandoned its original Platform vision

But to really understand Facebook’s current dilemma, we must look to News Feed, the “killer app” which allowed Facebook to truly consolidate its power. Launched to great user consternation in late 2006, News Feed came to dominate the Facebook experience within a year or so. As Facebook grew, and began its march to advertising dominance, News Feed became the company’s primary source of data-driven advertising revenue

Then Election 2016 happened (Donald Trump)

Slowly, Mark Zuckerberg got woke. His new commitment? To fix Facebook.

As 2018 dawns, we’ve seen the first such “fix” — the remarkable pivot of News Feed away from news.

Why are we all arguing about whether or not Facebook has the capacity to manage media flows on its platform at all? Why can’t we change the narrative, and ask a different set of questions?

Question #1: Why does Facebook have to control everything we see? For whatever reason, we’ve accepted a core premise that “the algorithm” will feed us just the right information.

Question #2: Why not let everyone create News Feed apps?

Then anyone, any developer, any kid from Macedonia (OK, bad example), any publisher, any curator like Dave Pell or Jason Hirschhorn could create a feed, and we, the people, get to choose which we consume. Of course there should be advertising in those feeds, and of course Facebook should get a cut

Question #3: What if Facebook really pivoted, and became a true Platform?

Back when we started the Web 2 Summit (2003–4, for those keeping track), my partner Tim O’Reilly penned an essay explaining the vision behind “The Web As A Platform.”

I believed that certain companies would likely find natural monopolies in various aspects of this — Stripe for payments, perhaps, Twilio for telephony integration — but all of these component companies would by necessity be open and integrative

“applications” on the web could focus on higher level value creation

But of course, this isn’t how the web evolved. Instead, those aforementioned three or four major companies effectively privatized huge swathes of the web’s “platform” layer

So imagine with me what might happen if Facebook were to become a truly neutral platform — an AWS for attention and identity, if you will

Of course this idea is crazy, complex, fraught, and seemingly impossible. But it sure beats the alternative.


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