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Media Companies Are Getting Sick of Facebook (bloomberg.com)
299 points by champagnepapi 176 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 167 comments

“Media companies are like serfs working Facebook’s land.”

Content companies, really. Anybody can make content now. Look who's mentioned in the article as an example of a "news source" - the CEO of "Thrillist", "NowThis News", and "Dodo". It's owning the pipes, and being able to restrict them, that makes money.

This is a big change. The Internet was supposed to be about disintermediation. Anybody can view CNN, Fox News, Russia Today, or the South China Morning Post at any time. Yet about half of Americans get their news on Facebook. Facebook isn't even a very good news aggregator.

Remember, sharing is spamming. When you "share" a story, you're just helping a spammer spam.

> When you "share" a story, you're just helping a spammer spam.

The spammers are getting really savvy about it too. I recently read an article in my feed that was interesting and funny, so I shared it. The next day my wife asked me why I shared that garbage site, and when I looked at it on her phone the formatting was completely different. It was now a 10 page article with a mess of ads and a paragraph or two of text on each page.

They created some decent content with a catchy headline. Then they seeded it out on social media and waited until it had "gone viral" before they crammed it full of shitty ads.

Are you sure it wasn't just that you use an ad-blocker and your wife doesn't?

Every time I use a web browser without an ad blocker I'm surprised at how shitty the web experience is.

I wonder if it's a referrer check. `if referrer == 'facebook': display_ads()`. That way the original viewer doesn't see the ad-filled page, but anyone clicking on the Facebook link does.

Yup, by default when you share a link using the official buttons it'll add tracking codes and referer query parameters to the request, easy to just slap on ads and crap if the link contains that.

I'm surprised FB hasn't handled this the same way Google penalizes you for hiding content from users that is present in for the bot.

If somebody is giving your users a 2nd-class experience, and you control the pipes, shouldn't you punish them?

The imgur method. Very annoying.

Wow, I've yet to experience this, I'll have to keep an eye out for this sort of deception and recognize what is happening when it's happening. Good heads up.

Yeah I've made it a habit to never share or click any facebook stories anymore (anything that links to another site). If something interests me, I open up firefox with noscript and search for the site on google to find it. Not sure it's any better but I don't want FB to start spamming me with even more 'related' articles/sites.

Just to be clear, you're saying someone was complaining about a site that suddenly got popular through network effects and then started showing adverts to make some money off it... on Facebook?

Getting initial traction using free stuff and then introducing ads or other revenue streams later once you're big enough is pretty much the dominant business model online today, unless you are a vendor of real products or services for which you charge real money in return.

I think your missing the time scale to which this is happening. what I understand is that it's an article that tries to have a good UX when the article has minimal traction let's say 15 visits per hour, but high share-ability and once the network effects takes over and you have 1500 visits per hour, you pump in the ads.

this is fundamentally different from the usual ad-supported website because the quantity of ads is consistent across all users.

it's a clever dark pattern IMO.

I understand the difference in timescales; I just don't see that much difference in the principle. Either it's reasonable to attract people based on free stuff and then monetize or it's not. I would agree that what is happening here is a dark pattern, but it's a dark pattern that has been the foundation for much of what people enjoy for "free" on the modern Web as well, so it doesn't seem particularly surprising to me that someone would try the same idea in a much accelerated process.

ok a more grounded expectation is that this basically is a bait and switch tactic, which I believe (not 100% sure) is illegal in the US.

(edit below)

it has to do with the amount of value inherent to the value proposition. you can try to exact more value from a product and potentially degrade the experience as a result. that's legal because it's a competitive business decision, but at some point you misrepresent the value of the product you are offering my changing the experience too much.

its a hazy line to draw because I think in the OP, the user may not have minded a couple ads, but rather they were annoyed by the inundation of too many ads to the point where you can't experience the actual value proposition of the article. then it becomes "spam".

it is not sufficient to deem this as just another business practice. there are obviously "working" business models such as Ponzi schemes that are highly illegal.

This seems like a stretch. The site doesn't, as far as I'm aware, have any control over who links to them in any form, including Facebook shares. I think it's unjustified, not to mention totally impractical, to say that a site can never change content it's offering (for free, no less) after it's first been published, just in case someone already linked to it and didn't like the change.

It's also not at all unreasonable, again IMHO, for a site that didn't start with ads but suddenly receives an abnormally high level of traffic to introduce ads at that time. Someone has to pay the hosting bills, after all.

A better bet if this mechanism is being abused might be to establish some sort of standard whereby a link could include a checksum that would then be invalidated if the linked content subsequently changed. This way, anyone following the link (including any hosting sites that share that link) could confirm whether or not what they were seeing was what was originally linked. You could take this further with some sort of standardised changelog and last updated indicator that sites could make available if they wanted to, and having browsers that detected a mismatch in a checksummed link warn a user before displaying the page and include recent update information if the site provided it. Lots of details would need working out, though, and I'm not sure I see enough upside to justify the complexity and inconvenience.

this is not bait and switch. 100% of the same content is there, even if the presentation is different. the site owner is able to change it at will, just like you can use an adblocker and change it yourself. cant say 1 method is acceptable while the other isnt.

also there's no explicit contract of delivery here, a headline alone doesn't confer that.

It's not bait-switch; it's not Ponzi; it's in no way illegal.

It's fucking douchebaggery though.

Many clickbait/content spam sites use referring sources to change the article content into galleries to maximize revenue, especially if they're also promoting these stories as ads on social media and recommended content widgets.

So you're saying we need immutable facebook links?

You mean, immutable pages -- it seems the link was the same (unless the spammer did a 301), it's just that it was loaded with ads after it became popular. FWIW, this is a reason Facebook uses to advocate for its Instant Articles platform (and Google advocates for its AMP).

I'm finding tools such as the Internet Archive and archive.is (both of which preserve page formatting), or Instapaper, Pocket, or Outline.com (which don't) are useful in this regard.

There's also "reader mode" browser features.

Advertising must die.

What are these "ads" things you speak of? I seem to remember the term from back before I installed uBlock Origin but it's been so long...

You've apparently been downvoted, but you raise a good point - although not the immediately obvious one:

I've been seeing ads that get through uBlock Origin in the last few days. Just a couple, I haven't bothered investigating it.

Perhaps something like including a sha of the dom of the page in the link, then some js that won't display it if it doesn't match up? I can think of all sorts of problems with the idea, but as a seed it might be worth something.

So real journals can't issue corrections?

Once upon a time corrections were issued as separate articles. This was move because you didn't have to keep returning to the same article for ongoing corrections or updates. And publishers can be sure everyone reads the same article, when there's only one version.

This has the added bonus of not expecting the reader to come back to the article multiple times to ensure that they receive the latest

When you first share a page Facebook seems to cache it once, and after that you have to tack on the ?v1 or something to the end of the same url to make Facebook re-scrape it or whatever you call it (to get OG meta tags/image to fill post).

Wonder if they could do something similar, cache the current contents of the page.

Ahh, the AMP model. Once the big 4 or 5 move that way, we're almost back to the original AOL model of a privately held "internet". Funny how things circle round.

I was just replying to that immutable thought and putting in spam crap but if it originates from facebook and not the people who posted the content... I don't know. I can't stand facebook but the ads are good haha (as a person advertising). Just a wall of crap, it's a time sink. Granted I waste time elsewhere anyway.

> we're almost back to the original AOL model of a privately held "internet".

The very thought makes me shudder.

On a related but only just tangent you can force refresh Facebook's cache of a page using their lint tool (now named debugger)


Cool that's good to know, I wrote a url parser that builds the template pages and I hadn't factored in the addition of extra ? query parameters ahhh

Good thanks

that's so unsettlnng that its a big enough trend that companies/people can think of profiting this way. I always thought "majority" people would read whats under a link before sharing it and a few would just blindly share, but its the opposite!

It's worse than just not reading it. The GP post is about reading it and finding it worthy, only to find that at some point after sharing it the original author edited it to add a lot of ads.

I'm curious--did you two view the site through different sources? I wonder if they were dynamically loading things based on where someone came from.

I've noticed sites doing exactly this.

Imgur for example is quite happy to show you the image and that alone if you view it directly. (As in via i.imgur.com/*.png)

Click the same direct image link from Facebook (Messenger in my example) and it'll redirect you to its full fat ad loaded page at best, at worst it'll just redirect you to its iOS/Android app listing with no way of actually seeing the damn image you clicked

This explains a lot.

Link cropping?

Christ, we went from Information Wants To Be Free to Sharing Is Spamming in less than two decades. How naive we were back then, thinking that tech alone would suffice to bring us freedom.

Information still wants to be free. It's just that most of it is garbage. It's always been that way, too, we just didn't notice it as much.

I've long suspected that Web 3.0 will mark a return to valuing more curated content, genuine expertise, and slower-paced and probably more fully moderated discussion.

The community-driven content of Web 2.0 has had a long run, and it surely isn't going anywhere. It's achieved some truly amazing things: who would have thought, even one generation ago, that today we'd have information sources like Wikipedia, or that they'd be as good as the best of them really are?

However, Web 2.0 has also shown us the weaknesses of a system where all voices are equal regardless of knowledge or experience. It has proved surprisingly difficult to create and sustain self-moderating communities that function as meritocracies, both in terms of the accuracy of information or validity of advice, and in terms of the challenging legal and ethical questions when one possibly anonymous person's free speech butts up against the real and possibly serious consequences of what is said for someone else. That same Wikipedia has had entire long and well-established pages on subjects where the content was utter drivel for months or years at a time, because it was utter drivel that enough inexperienced people believed, and there was no effective mechanism or incentive for a real expert to set the record straight.

It seems likely that many of these issues could be overcome if we combined the undoubted enthusiasm of the masses for having their say with a greater amount of input and influence for real experts and diligent moderators. However, that probably requires giving up a degree of the anonymity/pseudonymity we enjoy today, which does usefully allow for more honest and open discussions at times, so that credibility can be established with sufficient transparency to generate trust. It probably also requires people to actually pay real money to support the content or offset the running costs of discussion forums, so that a greater degree of expert contribution and/or moderation is actually viable without relying on ads, affiliate marketing schemes, or other secondary revenue sources that cloud the issue. That in turn may well require some form of either micropayments or syndication, and whoever cracks that one is probably the next Stripe.

The Web has reached the end of its cycle, and is fundamentally limited by its own structural foundations. The post-web information environment is a client-driven hyperspherical sparsely connected directed acyclic graph whose gradual population will be the cryptographic proof of work yielding a meaningful currency whose exchange creates rather than apes value.

I have bingo! What do I win?

Hehe, I'm terrible aren't I :-) At least I left out 'virtual reality.' Seriously, I have a fairly clear concept of the operating environment and UI but I'm struggling to think through how it works as a distributed system. I don't understand blockchain technology as well as I'd like and the speed and synchronization problems are major sticking points for this model, hence my describing it in such sketchy shallow terms.

Haha! You made my evening. The vast expanses of the Internet are your prize, sir.

Nothing. It's not bingo until it includes node.js (rewritten in Rust).

This is a great, high-quality comment, and I agree with much of what you're saying.

Does anyone else _like_ the current state of information access? It's beyond naive to think that you can get high-quality, honest, bias-free information from any source without having to have an ounce of skepticism. This pre-dates the Internet and the decentralization of content by [# of years since the beginning of civilization] years. I feel far more capable to form an opinion on something now than I did in the days before the Internet: I'm able to rapidly check a dozen different sources of information, weight them by how much I trust them and how credible I find their arguments, and assess my level of confidence about how I feel about it. This can include the issue being controversial enough that I end up with "hmm...I lean this way but don't have a strong opinion on which side is more correct". It's even easy to validate this approach: as I'm sure many others here can, I can think of half a dozen issues where traditional gatekeepers arrived at the conclusion I reached _years_ after I did.

By contrast, in the past, you had access to far fewer analyses of any degree of quality and if they were wrong or lazy or dishonest, you were just shit out of luck. Importantly, it's not like the highest-quality info sources back then were _better_ than the best sources you have access to now, so even if you think you're completely incapable of critical thought, you're no worse off.

I think the fundamental problem is how incredibly uncomfortable people have with uncertainty. It seems like purely a psychological problem to me, present only if one isn't mature enough to face down the fact that the knowledge you have access to in a large, complex society is inherently socially-constructed[1].

The "downside" of too much information only appears if one has already deluded oneself into thinking that skepticism is never warranted with gatekeeper-delivered information.

The solution is publishers with trusted brands.

Perhaps, but then how do you build such a brand if your revenue streams depend on things like number of page impressions? There's a reason the modern Web is plagued by clickbait titles, articles divided over many pages, ad networks and all the intrusive monitoring that goes with them, pop-up/pop-under messages and all their modern variations, affiliate links with varying levels of transparency about using them, and so on. If we want trusted sources of information and advice, don't we have to start by eliminating external influences that inherently affect how trustworthy a source can possibly be?

In any case, I had in mind something a little more ambitious than just a branding exercise. For example, perhaps it would be helpful if we could establish some sort of persona and web-of-trust infrastructure, so that experts with sufficient credentials and peer recognition in some field can assert those credentials in some verifiable way when commenting on relevant matters. Then perhaps we could also establish some standards for sites presenting contributions from those experts to present any relevant credentials concurrently, so that whether you're reading an article on a high profile news site or just a casual comment on a discussion forum like HN, you have same way to know how much credibility the person you're reading has in this area.

>Perhaps, but then how do you build such a brand if your revenue streams depend on things like number of page impressions?

Any brand that depends on page impressions will inevitably evolve into toxic garbage.

The solution is content you pay for. Subscriptions, Patreon, donations, or mix thereof.

Indeed. It was a rhetorical question. :-)

this, Just this morning I was thinking perhaps a startup can auto generate fake but interesting news using a 'Watson class' machine learning system. If we could saturate the internet with such 'real fake news' then perhaps there will be return to actually paying for news.

the value we used to get from old media was the due diligence behind reporting. unfortunately with the rise of internet the anybody can aggregate thereby the difference between blogs and nytimes is blurred to end users. the thing that I find rather insidious is news aggregators like FB or google dont use even a fraction of the revenue they siphoned off the old media to support anything remotely like journalism. hence the rise of fake news. That was my key take away from this election.

I'm not sure the primary value was due diligence. I think the value was more socially driven. You could ask anyone "did you see the front page story yesterday?" Much like you can talk about the weather and movies, newspapers were a way to connect and have a common experience.

Interesting point. I think I disagree, but if the primary value is that it was something to talk about, then it makes sense that it no longer has any value.

Also, no one talks about the weather or movies anymore either. Because people don't talk anymore. So nothing has any value now. :(

I had a similar idea in that an easy to install pre made news site + content source could help kill off the undue respect people give an article simply for it being an article.

Have it so in 5 minutes someone can have set up their own news site pre seeded with actual news, logo from a list, then all they have to do is buy a domain and write out their fake article.

Instead of putting the ideas you pulled straight from your ass in to a Facebook/reddit/hn comment box, you could make them seem like a source and just link them instead. It'd be glorious. Fake news getting flung everywhere by everyone.

I like it. sort of like a a meme generator & fake email ID generator mixed together to produce credible news article. something thats not easily shrug-off-able as seeing an onion link.

It'd be glorious until enough people start believing it's real, demanding retractions from legitimate outlets, then people killing other people based on a lie.

People have been killing people over lies for a very long time. Fake news won't start any more of that.

thats the thing, let them believe it. there will be a transition period before it becomes common knowledge that the trust in a picture with caption & link is misplaced. you'll need real due diligence before I give you a slice of my attention.

>unfortunately with the rise of internet the anybody can aggregate thereby the difference between blogs and nytimes is blurred to end users.

Worse still, this reduced revenue for high-integrity high-overhead traditional news outlets, and led to reducing the quality of their journalism because they couldn't afford to maintain the same standards.

So even the better news reporting institutions had to get worse to stay in the game.

I have to assume the money men in the business know what they're doing, at least in the short term, but it seems like many of the moves they made to cut costs reduced or eliminated their core competency as a business.

When I pick up a copy of the NYT I want to see hard news, not "lifestyle" crap about the hot new cocktails in New York bars or a piece weighing the advantages of a sous-vide machine. That kind of stuff I can get in more detail for free from blogs.

> thereby the difference between blogs and nytimes is blurred to end users

Wait what? I still find blogs pretty distinct from regular news, in that regular news are mostly bullshit and blogs tend to deliver actual information in a reasonable format.

They're both very flawed in different ways.

Blogs have have plenty of incentive to be quick, but not correct.

From time to time they have incentive to be incorrect too. An apology, retraction, etc is just more ad revenue at the end of the day.

"Blogs" is a useless category to generalize about: it just describes a medium, and is on an axis entirely separate from content (even the NYT has blogs, for example).

There are blogs I read that put far more effort into attempting to ensure that their analysis is correct than papers like the NYT. They don't have the resources and connections that the NYT does for hard-fact, "did this incident occur" checks, but they're far, far less likely IME to (e.g.) misunderstand or intentionally misrepresent a recently-published academic paper, pretty much regardless of the subject. On top of that, they're a lot more likely to "show their work" and their comment sections are a lot more likely to have credible rebuttals to their main claims (hell, a link to a counterargument I made in a comment was recently edited in to an article on one of the blogs I frequent).

You'd think this would be a problem mainly for factoid-type, pop-science articles about space or wildlife, but the most egregious examples I can think of come from coverage of analyses in the social sciences. This is way more damaging, since people form their opinions on policy through the accumulation of their understanding of articles like these.

I understand that journalists aren't necessarily any smarter than the rest of us when it comes to things out of their field, so there's some baseline level of inaccuracy you'd expect, but some of what you see out of papers like the NYT is just flat dishonesty. And I say that as someone who's a fan!

Well the ability for anyone to publish didn't come with a new universal baseline for education and knowledge.

The notion of Eternal September always seemed a bit pompous, even if understandably so where some gaps really stretch the tolerances.

Hate the Freshmen just to pay it forward.

It's not necessarily garbage, just redundant. The first ad for "enhancement" might actually be somewhat interesting. But the hundredth or the thousandth is a waste of bytes.

> How naive we were back then, thinking that tech alone would suffice to bring us freedom.

You've completely misunderstood what the phrase actually means. The notion of access to information doesn't imply access to a selected, curated subset of it: in fact it means quite the opposite. Access to a deluge of information unbarred by gatekeepers is precisely at the heart of the concept, in contrast to the highly-curated and high-barrier world of (e.g.) three broadcast networks, and thousand-dollar encyclopedias.

Don't get me wrong: I certainly don't think that it's only the "dumb" that find handling the information deluge to be challenging. From the perspective of the individual's access to information, "Information Wants To Be Free" is still very much alive and well; it just requires a little more maturity than "tell me what to believe". Every single time I've heard someone complain about the fact that they see reliable sources say seemingly contradictory things about an issue, it's because the issue in reality is more complex than their oversimplified model would like it to be. Amazing access to information doesn't even remotely mean the same thing as "every issue is now magically simple enough that you don't have to put any effort into understanding it".

FWIW, "Sharing is Spamming" is utter nonsense. If you put the time in to curate whose sharing you read, you won't end up with garbage in your proverbial in-box.

> Information Wants To Be Free

As a legit inquiry, can someone explain this phrase to me? I've heard it mentioned tons over the years and have seen a bunch of different inconsistent interpretations people have applied. Which meaning of 'free' is being used? How is it's meaning reached from the phrase? I legit don't understand it.

I remember seeing it a lot used around the context of media piracy and attempts by companies to control the narration and dissemination of content via legal grounds. Stuff like region-locked DVDs, control over distribution of a game or film into countries that might have banned that media, attempts to censor and control dissemination of a particular article or essay. When duplication becomes essentially free then content, good content, will want to be free and ultimately any attempt to lock down and control this information will eventually be thwarted.

At the time, I it was a positive sentiment. Government secrets would leak out (which they have). Rare or impossible to find books, films, and music would become freely available. If governments or corporations tried to restrict access to those books they would fail, etc.

These days, I often find myself using the phrase more as an ethical warning. Any information you gather or create will eventually become freed. So if you're gay and live in the middle east, don't post it on Facebook because eventually that information will be freed. Don't collect personal information of dissidents in countries were they may be persecuted. Don't collect information about your customers that you don't want eventually going public (e.g. do stupid things like store credit card numbers and social security numbers when you don't have to)

Nailed it.

Things are going to get very bad over the next decade or so as we as a society realise the implications of this.

Any information we create, collect or store will become public knowledge, one way or the other.

It's a reference to the tension between the high value of information and the declining cost of distributing it.


The idea was that the truth would come out and disseminate if the distribution channels weren't censored. It assumes everyone had a natural good faith search for truthful and accurate information.

Lol I hadn't heard that interpretation. Personally it's too interpretive for me. Ive always accepted the tautological version -- similar to TANSTAAFL: Information wants to be free -- simply because the cost of duplicating and distributing information in digital form is basically 0.. all information is free. Not really speaking to the quality of said information and this is not as strong as what you have said -- it's useful because clearly policy makers and lay people often can't internalize this economic truth. Ie this is the same definition of information as in the phrase information theory.

I think this really ignores the difficult problem of disseminating information which was much more challenging before the internet. We weren't limited by how fast we were printing books but how hard it was to find information already printed. A book on its own is useless if nobody knows about it.

The real idea here was that the internet would be a game changer. Not only would information be available immediately - but you could actually find it. When it became cheap to find "correct" information the idea was that would dominate. The implicit assumption was that people actually wanted correct, accurate and truthful information.

In practice it turns out people prefer information that validates their opinions, regardless of accuracy.

> In practice it turns out people prefer information that validates their opinions, regardless of accuracy.

Quotes abound including Ben Franklin about how people will believe what they damn well want to. This isn't a new revelation by any means save for some technocrats that probably were too autistic to understand human nature.

On the otherhand Information wants to be free has always been able to make a non moralistic statement that is true without respect to human behavior. The cost of information is not due to anything human. The reason why this is still a powerful statement is that it makes it clear that outside of totalitarian control (from SOPA to real jackboot dictatorships) you can't control the dissemination of information even amongst the peasantry. Of course if this information is news.. it could be garbage.. and often is.

I'm speaking of this quote as it applied to the internet in the mid-90s. Back then there really was this idea that the internet would have changed everything. Not just for those who were naturally curious and wanted the information but for those who didn't even know they wanted it. The idea was if only people knew this information was out there they would naturally seek and spread it.

You need to look at who the original people using the internet were. Generally speaking they were the students of research Universities who would be naturally inquisitive. Their bias for learning blinded them from the realities of most people who simply don't care. The truth has no direct use for them.

I also don't think seeking out validating information is the wrong choice for most people. If you weren't going to do anything with the information anyways you might as well get the endorphin rush validation brings.

The truth usually does come out, but finding it among all the junk news is hard.

Information about the meaning of said expression is freely available on Wikipedia, ironically

"Information wants to escape" might be less ambiguous.

Like water it seeks-out a hole through which to flow to freedom.

And the more valuable the information the more pressure it exerts upon people to make that hole for it.

>"Information wants to escape" might be less ambiguous.

"In current age, information is easy to copy and disseminate, and hard to keep from being stolen".

This won't do it; this conveys the assumption that information can be owned. Much of the use of the phrase is based on the opposite idea.

The full quote:

"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."

That was said by Stewart Brand, something of a 1960s-era hippy-turned-businessman, to Steve Wozniak, of Apple Fame. Brand's previous ventures were the Whole Earth Catalog and Global Business Network. He went on to found the WELL, among the first online communities, and the Long Now Foundation.

The fundamental notion contrasts's informations high fixed costs with its low marginal costs, as well as the sometimes high use value.

For both psychological and economic reasons (marginal analysis), there's a strong incentive to keep information's price low. Much of the general conflict over content creators and consumers concerns this. Many economists, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, argue that information is a public good. See p. 308:


With copyright and printed media, an effictive moat and gate were created by which higher prices could be sustained for some goods (books, periodicals, record albums, film), as well as advertising-subsidised publiction (periodicals, broadcast).

Hamilton Holt's Commercialism and Journalism (1909) gives a good run-down of the trade-offs in mass-market advertising-subsidised media vs. small-market, intellectual products. The same dynamics continue to apply.


There was a strong tradition, especially on the U.S. West Coast, of an open-access, technologically mediated information regime. Brand and John Perry Barlow ("Wine Without Bottles", "Cyberspace Manifesto") reflected much of this.



Unfortunately, this vision failed to address a few realities:

1. Changing the costs and prices of an activity fundamentally changes that activity. It wasn't just the then high-quality contributors who joined in the party, but kooks, crazies, terrorists, scammers, opportunists, etc., who had previously been priced out (or otherwise largely excluded).

2. As a medium grows in use and importance, it becomes ever more attractive to those who would seek to exploit it for personal, or political, gain. We're well into that phase of Internet use now. It's a history that's been pressaged by earlier major communications developments: cable TV, broadcast TV, radio, cinema, phonograph, public-address systems, printing, speech.

3. If it's possible to make money (or seek other non-didactic reward) through a medium, then that incentive will tend to drive out truth-seeking activities. Evolutionary systems are exceedingly good at evolving toward what is incentivised for, and extirpating competing forms.

I still subscribe to parts of the original concept: information really ought be fairly freely available, perhaps paid on a tax basis. But our epistemic systems should also be, substantially, guided by epistemological criteria.

Information still wants to be free. It's not free when Facebook controls it.

What do you mean? The first spam email was in 1978. Advertising and Spam keeps on evolving as all tech does.

I think one problem is we've redefined "content", "news", and "sharing" to be shadows of their former selves.

"Content" is no longer a reification of value, "news" is no longer keeping accurately informed of events, and "sharing" is no longer helping others by giving them something. Now these all just mean "sell your data to facebook", but of course you won't see that from using facebook.

We've also redefined "friends" as shadows of their former selves.

Those aren't shadows, they're marketing profiles.

This is for you!


"Those who use the term 'content' are often the publishers that push for increased copyright power in the name of the authors ('creators,' as they say) of the works.

The term 'content' reveals their real attitude towards these works and their authors."

I only use the word sometimes as a form of sick irony and to bring light to the issue. "Nice content, bro."

The newspapers were already aggregators in the first place. They bought stories off wire feeds, bought editorials, paid for the comics, and sprinkled in their own content.

The Associated Press quite upset the news industry by directly posting content online, because they were afraid people would skip them and get the stories directly.

The newspapers own AP. They share news via AP. AP was/is a scheme to reduce the costs of news gathering by, for example, having the LA Times contribute information on events in LA that the NYTimes can use, and vice versa.

One argument is that cheaper media technologies require expanding the bounds of the publishing entity. Whether that means ISPs, major aggregators, Amazon / Apple / Google, a public broadcasting model, or something else, I'm not sure.

But it's going to be large.

Yeah, they paid for it.

Its funny that the exact opposite argument is being made in the Time Warner / Snap comment section:

And here's the thing that concerns me: Netflix, on a tech level, is pretty much a solved problem. There's stuff left to be done for sure, rust never sleeps, but they're pretty much good to go tech-wise. The content side of their business is an existential struggle, and getting original content right is IMHO a do-or-die proposition for them. They did a pretty damned good job because they have to.


Decades ago, people used to predict that "in the future" we would have intelligent machines that we could set up to go after stuff that interest us and bring only what we care about. Those machines would be an extension of our brain, empowering ourselves.

We've got those machines, but with a fundamentally broken implementation. I wonder if we will ever fix them.

The people who made those predictions? Current Facebook investors.

Is there a citation for that?


Perhaps the broken implementation is human self interest? If it's not interesting or sensational then we aren't interested, thus we've trained the implementation to only give us skewed results?

Real Housewives, Kim Kardashian and TMZ should have alerted us to this.

We can have programs looking for our interests while researching the newest celebrity gossip online. Instead, we only have ones looking for Facebook's interests.

That's the issue. If you only care about your own interests, then you miss out on important things. How do you think Trump got to his world view?

You already have that. Just limit your internet access to Google Books.

Question: does Google Books do a good job recommending material based on previous book purchase? I have only bought about 5 books there, so and recommendation system there does not have much to work with.

> Facebook isn't even a very good news aggregator.

It's in fact a huge echo chamber creator :


I think part of the reason is that people are already on Facebook - another reason though is that most news websites are pretty unpleasant to go to directly.

I have a NYT subscription and their stuff is pretty nice, but something like CNN takes a long time to load, has a pretty bad video player and is just not that great in general.

> Anybody can view CNN, Fox News, Russia Today, or the South China Morning Post at any time.

And what about the big/relevant papers that request subscription? That's a barrier a good portion of users in general and a huge one for Latin America -- where I currently live.

Some mobile carriers won't account data transfer to FB, Twitter and likes, making it attractive to users with very limited data plans -- e.g. 300MB/month. So people wanting to consume news or content will rely solely on what's available within FB, because in theory it would be less expensive.

I see this as a great opp for both FB and the carriers to build partnership with content providers.

I disagree. Cable companies controlled the pipes for a long time, but that didn't stop the content producers (CNN, ESPN, etc) from having substantial pricing power then.

Facebook controls the eyeballs the same way the cable companies did. Of course, there's been some consolidation of the distribution and content production side of things (Comcast+NBC, Disney+BAMTech, networks+Hulu, Netflix+Netflix, etc).

The question is to what extent there is a magic sauce in the organizations to produce quality content and if their brands are strong enough for consumers to demand.Think about ESPN, NYTimes, CNN and Buzzfeed. They all seem to have strong brands. Some people prefer MSNBC over CNN, Fox over CNN, etc. In addition to strong brands, they all seem to have at least a good level of organizational secret-sauce that produces good content.

-Can Facebook create its own content arm and become a competitor? Potentially, especially with some acquisitions.

-Can Facebook treat the existing content producers like commodities that it pits against each-other for limited compensation? Seems unlikely right now (and I don't see how Facebook would have more bargaining power than Comcast did).

-Does it make sense for Facebook to get into the content creation game? I'm imagining now how things would look with a Facebook acquisition of Buzzfeed or Vice.

-If the existing content companies are unwilling to work with Facebook at prices that Facebook wants to pay, at what point does Facebook get into the content game themselves?

-If Facebook gets into the content creation game itself, does that put the other media companies into a bad place?

-How can the content companies continue to live in this fractured world? People always have and always will want good content. The print content model came to the web in a very fractured way. If you had 10 physical newspapers delivered, now you have 10 websites you need to pay for. It makes no sense, and I think it will almost certainly change within the coming decades to be more of a Spotify model. When, and who wins and loses, will be a very interesting story (and also very socially important). If the media companies don't get their shit together, Facebook or Apple or some kids in a garage will end up owning what could have been theirs.

Actually, I'm thinking now that Facebook might be much more powerful than cable companies.

Facebook not only connects content producers, it also decides which ones to show. This is like being a cable company and an amped up tv guide which ranks the channels and decides which ones to shower the user. Powerful position.

Yeah, I was gonna say, it's extremely difficult to efficiently get the content you're looking for on Facebook. These days, even if I go to someone's page, the most recent videos or photos might be hidden behind some UI element or another. In many ways, Facebook controls what you're going to see in ways cable companies didn't or couldn't. If you're in the feed, there is no way whatsoever to choose how its sorted. I have a lot of pro photographer friends and I want to see their photos, but Facebook's algorithm wants very badly for me to see the latest stolen viral video, so it hides everything else. Very powerful position.

Platform and content providers tend to have a more healthy relationship when the platform is not a monopoly. So there is only one way to solve this - break Facebook. Otherwise, we will need to wait for many years before Facebook loses its steam, Facebook itself may become boring one day, but FB can keep its vigor by buying the 'next big thing' (Instagram, Whatsapp).

The content producers un-disintermediated themselves by building mobile web sites with slow performance and bad UX. If you just want to read a news article on a mobile device then Facebook Instant Articles are much faster and smoother than switching over to browser which loads tons of JavaScript and ads.

Last time I looked I could still copy paste a web address and post it as a status (deleting the preview) - which seems like a fairly clean way to disseminate a cool post - at the very least copy paste should work perfectly.

Of course, it's been a couple years so i don't really know anymore...

as much I say I fight it, I fall in that boat, albiet with HN, reddit, Ars, and I guess even Google news. Its all curated in some way, and of course even CNN/Reuters is a curated news aggregation by deciding which stories get run.

There's obviously some mistake, "Russia Today" should be along with "Thrillist", "NowThis News", and "Dodo" and not reputable news like CNN or Fox.

You should value RT more highly in the current situation. The war pigs are trying their damnedest to start a war with Russia, and all you get from CNN is "rules of engagement" (i.e. "what we decided to do, international norms be damned") and "Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)" (i.e. "Al Qaeda become our allies as soon as they cross the border, because hey they want to see a war with Russia too"). If all Americans spent a little time considering the positions of those offered up as our "enemies", the military-industrial complex would have a more difficult time with their evil plans. CNN and other content mills like them are blindfolds we willingly wear.

RT is a state-run propaganda machine of the Russian government.

Spoiler-alert: they only have the interests of the russian government in mind.

I suggested considering the positions of our putative enemies before we're all dragged into a disastrous war, and your retort is that RT reports the position of Russia... is this irony?

To whose interests do you imagine that MSNBCNNFox cater?

> There's obviously some mistake, CNN or Fox should be along with "Thrillist", "NowThis News", and "Dodo" and not reputable news like "Russia Today".

> There's obviously some mistake, CNN, Fox, and Russia Today should be along with "Thrillist", "NowThis News", and "Dodo" and not reputable news like The Onion.

Both of you for some reason list CNN and Fox in the same category, is there a reason for that?

It is because I'm a Brazilian and from here what I see is that both are right wing media companies working hard to keep their riches richer. Also, the major Brazilian media company has born from the same group as CNN.

CNN is basically the unofficial Democratic Party mouthpiece.

The Democratic Party isn't traditionally "left-wing", but it certainly seems wrong to call them "right-wing".

Yeah, and here in Brazil, the right-wing is the unofficial US Democratic Party vassal, starting by Globo (CNN-affiliated). Here "liberals" are not considered left-wing but right. Sanders and a few would be considered somehow left wing here, but not that much.

This is in line with much of the rest of the globe, the USA does not really have a functional left wing, just two right wing parties one of which is - slightly - to the left of the other.

A good companion article to read is "Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved" [1], written about a year ago by the guy who founded The Verge before he launched The Outline.

The basic argument is that these media companies are chasing readership scale (via Facebook exposure, etc) as a way to solve the problem that no one actually values what they produce very much. And that they keep chasing the next "tech thing" as a solution to get more readership scale instead of just producing good content for an audience that actually cares about them.

It's a very cathartic read if you are jaded about the current online media world.

[1] https://medium.com/@joshuatopolsky/your-media-business-will-...

What is fascinating is to see FB successfully employ the same general strategy to publishers as they did advertisers.

With advertisers, they got everyone excited about the ability to reach their audience through a new channel. It had some similarities to email in that FB encouraged you to get Likes on your page, and then everything you posted would in theory reach your audience. Then they gradually tightened the screws in the name of declining user experience with too much garbage in the feed, which became algorithmic instead of sorted by recency.

This in turn let them flip the switch and move to basically zero reach unless you pay. And not just pay a flat rate based on however thousands of users you have (like email providers), but a dynamic pricing auction that maximizes revenue for FB. So advertisers invested all this time and major dollars on building their FB base, without actually owning the contact info or the ability to reach those people without paying FB. Frog successfully boiled.

Now with publishers they got them all excited about the reach they get for their content, and then slowly choke them via Instant Articles. Since publishers are so reliant on the revenue from FB, they have ZERO leverage in these negotiations, much like when Google says "sure, you don't have to have your content indexed." FB can now decide how benevolent it is feeling towards publishers, and there's nothing they can do about it.

The irony is that The Outline is just like all the others, except that it has prettier ads.

I think a bigger problem is that readers are getting sick of media companies. It's not Facebook's fault.

Most of what happens on Social Media nowadays is driven by media companies' efforts to generate revenue no matter what. Since humans respond to provocative content, that's what becomes prevalent on the Web.

Even if Facebook were to go away today, these media companies will make the same mistake and try to take advantage of their users the same way because that's how they can survive in this age.

I have zero sympathy for media companies getting sick of facebook.

At some level, readers have stopped paying media companies, and so media companies do whatever it takes to make ad money come in.

I feel like people used to have newspapers and magazines (like Nat Geo) delivered to their door all the time. And they'd have a cable subscription to subsidize CNN.

Maybe someone should create a news network that is distributed by Spotify.

> I feel like people used to [...]

People used to have far fewer choices. When I was a kid, we received a daily newspaper and National Geographic and I would read them both. I would also read every word on every panel of the cereal box. I was bored most of the time, especially over the summer. Now I have the reverse problem - too many things to do and not enough time to spend.

> Maybe someone should create a news network that is distributed by Spotify.

News outlets put stories on Snapchat. I think that's pretty close to what you are suggesting.

Downside is that writers like getting paid even the paltry sums they already are being offered. I feel media made a big mistake in the 90s by making online content free

I don't think there's really any other way things could have unfolded. Legacy publishers had to compete with new publishers and many of the old companies were in pretty terrible shape.

I like getting paid too; I don't begrudge writers for that.

I just wish they got paid more for making "good stuff", and less for making "click bait" and "fake news".

I don't have sympathy for either side here. The point is that it is interesting to see those interdependent beings fight into a possible mutual death.

I just came for the doggies

As someone who hears the gripes from content creators about how facebook restricts their reach depending on the source of that content and based on that to whom it's shown; it appears that facebook doesn't mind sacrificing efficiency of the web to increase their position of power.

Content creators have to work twice as hard, publish twice as much and take up twice as much storage space because of facebook's walled garden.

Taken to the extreme this is an ugly future of wasted time and resources to bend to facebook's constant tweaks which are not in favor of the content creators, but the advertisers.

I wonder if, at some point, social sanctions will be pressed on one another to consider the use of facebook toxic to oneself and others, no different than smoking?

> Taken to the extreme this is an ugly future of wasted time and resources to bend to facebook's constant tweaks which are not in favor of the content creators, but ~~the advertisers~~ facebook.

Small correction: Content creators are the advertisers. If you want the audience you've built to see the content you've made, you pretty much have to buy ads in the form of "boosts" and other ad units. At this point, everything is looping around to benefit Facebook. I see more sponsored posts for content than for products these days, honestly.

> no different than smoking

I'll note that it took centuries for smoking to go out of style (it still isn't in many developed countries) and it took decades for most people to "consider it toxic" even after there was scientific evidence to corroborate it.

It's arguable that Facebook will be in an even better position to fend off accusations of its toxicity since Facebook has one of the world's largest human sociological experimentation platforms ever known to man. They are able to run experiments and gather evidence that economists have not otherwise been able to run.

It's funny you mentioned smoking. I thought the same thing

It is early in the FB life. Perhaps more social violence and death will have to happen. Will the surgeon general (or net equivalent) find FB has their own holes in cigarette filters (1) so to speak?

How many more teen suicides from social media have to happen before everyone likens FB to cancer sticks (cigarettes)?

(1) https://www.google.com/amp/www.spokesman.com/stories/1997/fe...

Moreover, the lack of sanctions against freebooting shows the complete disinterest of Facebook in protecting the content creators. Audience is their only priority.

>Ben Lerer, CEO of online video machine Group Nine Media (Thrillist, NowThis News, the Dodo), says that while he’s not satisfied by his deals with Facebook, he’s optimistic they’ll improve. Either way, he says, “whining and complaining that Facebook isn’t making you money is probably not going to be the most successful approach to building a partnership with Facebook where they make you lots of money.”

Says the CEO of companies which were completely built on the viral factor and will not be able to serve without social media. no surprises there.

Also, every media company now crazily rely on Google/FB for users, as i see it, there's no escape, sadly.

Unfortunately Facebook's content can only be free, because its a reflection of its audience. And its audience values worthless content.

That leaves publishers with nothing but their worthless content when they've outsourced all distribution to Facebook

(Worthless meaning low intrinsic value, high attention getting value)

I keep wondering what made the news outlets surrender to FB so quickly in the first place. Did they really think it was to their advantage?

Facebook should look to independent content producers working off of Patreon -- their by-line is exactly what media companies are looking for:

> Best way for artists and creators to get sustainable income and connect with fans

Either buy Patreon outright or offer a competing platform. At this point the PHBs at Facebook have to decide whether they prefer their business connections to media conglomerates or sidestep them completely by establishing their own content producing platform.

Curated content direct from the content producers is the way to go. I think it a poor practice to use Facebook for anything but quickly catching up on what family and friends are doing.

I am a happy consumer of other social media because I try to follow relatively just a few people who have interesting things to say and provide interesting links. It is the people, and relatively few of them, that provide some value from Google+ and Twitter.

> "If journalism isn’t surviving in this environment, that’s bad for society, but it’s also bad for Facebook"

Similar to the statements of a zoo keeper, maybe the word to consider is 'thriving', not just 'surviving'.

I'm getting sick of the huge volume of garbage in the whole Internet. Idiots on Facebook (which I cannot unfriend for reasons) keep flooding my timeline with right-wing "alternative news" XXXXX (but thankfully, Facebook got rid of Farmville spam!), Youtube has been overtaken by Let's Play XXXXX, clickbait and the videos of "omg i was shopping here are my clothes" Instagram fame XXXXX.

And many newspapers these days, even formerly respected Spiegel and Sueddeutsche Zeitung, seem to think it's worth their time to publish clickbait stuff... argh. Is there any idiocy-free space left on the net?

You can use the unfollow button, its quite effective.

"Facebook announced it would allow publishers to put more ads in Instant Articles"

Yeah, that should make it more popular.

I thought this was going to say "people on facebook are getting sick of media companies" but I keep forgetting people are the product and not the customer.

Wait no I didn't forget. That's why I left.

But what's the alternative to Facebook for media companies?

There's Google and that's about it.

So even though this article might have a lot of merit to what it states, there really isn't any good alternatives to using Facebook (besides maybe Google).

> But what's the alternative to Facebook for media companies?

Here's what's going to happen, it's very predictable: inflection.

At peak fear, when nearly everyone is screaming at the top of their lungs about Facebook crushing earth (with inbound anti-trust attention), an inflection will be getting birthed that will be busy undermining the reason for that laughable mass dread.

The inflection - which has never not occurred, especially in technology - will be the birth of a thousand new distribution points, which will increasingly rip attention away from Facebook. These new distribution points will be narrow, hyper focused, they'll serve their audience radically better than Facebook within any given category.

I'll emphasize it one more time for anyone too emotional on this topic to think straight: there isn't a single example in recent tech history, in which an inflection didn't break down a formerly dominant position. Not one example in the last 60 years. We're nearing peak Facebook, the screaming is beginning as one would expect; government attention is next up, talk of regulation or breaking it up will become extremely common ('what to do about Facebook' is coming to the cover of magazines); meanwhile, right this moment, those thousand new points of distribution are being born, while few are paying attention. As Facebook reaches peak time-on-site saturation, it'll begin to bleed dominance, very very slowly at first, then it'll cascade.

I wish people will start using alternate social network like ello more to share, at least they have much more privacy protections built-in.

Amazon. Apple. Microssoft. HBO. Netflix.

Possibly public media: APM, PRI, PBS, NPR, APB.

even Google is not an alternative if your audience is the bored and looking to be entertained type.

Facebook = AOL With AI. We should call Facebook AIOL in honor of this.

Delete Facebook, instantly have less problems. Especially with annoying advertisers. Simple!

Garbage has been monetized. Garbage has been weaponized.

Incidentally fb video seems to load very slowly when tested with identical videos loaded on the same connection in youtube.

There's not much difference between random copywriters on Facebook and "reputable" newsletters, latter only having more valuable brand name and more aggressive paywalls and anti-adblockers. Quality of content is the same, never ending special olympics in filling void with most intricate, convoluted words.

Media companies don't have much choice.

"viewership is its own reward"

Bahaha. Seriously, that's like the corporate version of "we'll pay you in exposure". I can't eat exposure, and media companies won't take "viewership" as a substitute for revenue.

LOL, I am surprised CNN was able to get ANY money out of FB.

Facebook isn't a dictatorship. They're not forcing media companies to stay on FB.

If you're sick of FB, then don't produce videos for them. Don't use Instant Articles.

Going even further, delete your FB company page, stop posting FB updates, and stop buying FB ads.

Last I checked, media companies aren't paying FB in order to post content there (yes I know there are ads but media companies aren't complaining about ads).

What did you last check? Because actually yes, media companies absolutely pay social media companies large amounts of money for advertising partnerships, which generally take the form of "posting content" and "amplifying" it.

Wasn't there a huge problem with Facebook Video stealing content from others with impunity?

Was more users doing that via FB Video, but yes.


i've heard the same arguments about Google, good luck with that.

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