Facebook Readying to Become the Newsboy of 21st Century

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2015-03-29 Print this article Print

NEWS ANALYSIS: Pending content deals with The New York Times and other trusted news providers could help revive the legitimate journalism business.

Facebook's F8 conference last week in San Francisco marked a public pivot point for the social network, which is hardly your father's social network anymore.

Of course, Facebook has been pivoting internally for most of its 10-year history. Beside continuing to run the world's largest and most influential social network -- which is quite an accomplishment on its own merit --  it is building out a number of new data centers, developing scads of open-source development tools, acquiring promising companies such as Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus VR and PrivateCore, and adding to its base of 9,200 full-time employees.

Facebook hasn't put its $2.94 billion in profits from the last fiscal year into a savings account. Before our very eyes, we've watched a company that was originally designed to help college nerds meet girls become an impact player, connecting people around the world. It has evolved into an innovative IT impact player of instant communication, commerce, entertainment, and now, journalism.

Facebook's List of 'To-Do's'

At F8, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company announced an ambitious list of "already-doing" and "to-do" items, setting the scene for the next 10 years. They include:

--Fortifying Messenger so that it has its own development and cloud-service platform. Who knew that a simple messaging function could be developed to enable video exchange, payments and a list of other functions outside of native or Web-based apps? Go here to see more detail about this.

--It will enable users to read popular news sites without leaving Facebook. The New York Times, National Geographic and Buzzfeed will be some of the first to post their content directly within the site. This means that stories wouldn't just appear as links in the News Feed, but as content that can be directly shared or liked. Facebook is busy behind the scenes working on interesting new content deals.

--It is taking high-definition video another step higher with soon-to-come support for "spherical videos"—immersive, 3D-like videos for its standard news stream. Nobody else is attempting this. Go here to see more detail.

Finally, Facebook has come up with a solution to solve all discord in the Middle East. Well, okay, that last one is wishful thinking, not something that was actually discussed at F8. But check back here next year and we'll see if some progress has been made.

New Channels for Trusted News

No. 1, in the opinion of at least one journalist, is the intriguing idea of enabling social networks like Facebook to become a direct distribution channel for legitimate journalism, such as that researched and published by the Times and other trusted news and information providers. Any channel that can be used to display legitimate news sources is a good one.

Facebook wants people to use its Blue App for as many hours in the day as possible. Adding any Web content or service that will make people stick is all good, but legitimate news sources are the most useful content. Bringing original content directly from media outlets such as those noted above to Facebook's dedicated users is a clear win-win for everybody.

This pending agreement with the Times, for example, could help newspapers stay in business using a revenue-sharing model. It's almost like Facebook serving as a 21st-century newsboy ("Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"). In fact, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has often compared Facebook to a new-generation newspaper, full of local and personalized news for each reader.

One option in this scenario is that instead of the usual-suspect ads that publishers place on their stories, a single ad in a custom format could be displayed for each article. Although the site has experimented with the model for a few high-visibility brands, such as a deal with Verizon and the NFL to put Verizon ads next to football clips, it would require a change in Facebook's relationship with publishers.

Could Work for Local Newspapers

This experimentation doesn’t have to be relegated only to the Times and other national publications. Facebook, which is already quite localized with its ad distribution, could also carve out similar deals with smaller, local newspapers for targeted news stories for individuals.

This way, Facebook users wouldn't have to rely on friends or Twitter to tell them about the gas leak downtown that has caused a city block to be closed off to traffic and pedestrians.

Stay tuned. Lots of interesting things happening in this sector.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz
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