By Ayeni Adekunle
I am a Facebook fan. I love the platform and the thinking behind their business model. I understand the vision of the founders and believe companies like Facebook are a very important part of today’s and tomorrow’s world – in whatever way you look at it.
The world will continue to get interconnected, as we all work together to solve local and global problems, and build better lives for ourselves and the next generation.
Because Facebook has implications for our organisation, BHM, I have taken the pain to understand how the company works. I studied Google for years, even attending an FT meeting with Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg in London in 2014. Then I faced Facebook and became a self-taught expert. When the opportunity came to attend F8, Facebook’s developers conference this year, I grabbed it with both hands, even though it was days away from our own conference NEClive.
I left San Francisco convinced that Facebook could be a gift and a curse to the media, tech and advertising industry. The telcos see Mark Zuckerberg and his company as a frenemy, the media see them as enablers and enslavers, I don’t know if the ad industry sees them the way they see Google yet.
We’re at the cusp of something important and it is difficult for anyone to actually accurately predict what the next few years will look like. We are all at best, speculating based on what we can see from where we stand. What is certain is that there will be major losers and gainers, short term and long term. When it finally happens, we would have inadvertently created a new era where the words media, technology, advertising, public relations and computer science would mean something entirely different from what most people understand them to be today.
Facebook likely has a better idea of what’s coming, as one can tell from their recent acquisitions, priorities, products and partnerships. I loved the thinking behind snatching Oculus and Whatsapp and Instagram. I’m excited by the power of 360 videos and VR. I supported Instant Articles from day one, even though I understand the concerns of those who vehemently criticize it. There’s a lot more that Facebook is working on, most of them commendable; most of them stuff that governments and the leaders of the respective industries should have been, ideally, driving.
But what I saw yesterday after tempting my Snapchat friends with photos of my six-course dinner in Milan, left a bad taste in my mouth. I had heard earlier in the day that Instagram, which is owned by Facebook was to launch something called Instagram Stories. Smart move, I thought. Reminded me of how Instagram videos came at the point everyone was on Keek’s dick. But when I left Snapchat to catch up with IG, I was shocked to find a copycat of Snapchat right in my face: if you’re a Snapchat user, you know what tapping your camera screen twice does: it switches the camera from front to back. You know what the eye sign says: suggesting who has viewed your snap. You know how to edit your photos and input text in many colours. These basic Snapchat features were what Facebook introduced yesterday on Instagram. I don’t know if there’s a term for it in Silicon Valley. But in the media, it’s called plagiarism. It’s an illegality. A shame. It’s low and dirty and petty and unpardonable.
Google was late to the social media party and is paying dearly for it. We’ve seen what happened to Nokia and Blackberry and Yahoo and others who didn’t see the future early. So I understand Facebook’s determination not to be caught napping. I also understand they may not have broken any laws, but what’s bad is bad, no matter how much filter you use to beautify it.
Facebook has been eyeing what Google had with YouTube for years, and I recall the criticism that trailed their free-for-all approach to videos from 2014. Looking away as copyright infringements thrived on their platform, they just wanted people to post videos natively on Facebook, no matter whose. They even tweaked the algorithm to prioritize native video content over links. They tweaked the algorithm to show us more video in newsfeed. Facebook wanted a seat at the video table. They now have it.
For many years, Facebook became, for many people, the social media app where your father and grand uncle liked your photos and made snide comments on your tattoos. So millennials jumped out in droves and began cavorting with cooler platforms like Tumblr and Snapchat and even Twitter. To win the kids back, Facebook has had to do a lot of things, including Facebook Live – a product designed, in my opinion, to battle Twitter for relevance in live news, and battle Snapchat in live video.
Instagram’s Stories, launched yesterday, is the recent episode, in this battle for users’ photos, videos, time and data, and it would have been popcorn-deserving, if it were not scary. It would have been entertaining if it were not unfunny.
I’ve been told moves like this are not new in the tech industry. My response: it doesn’t make it right, especially for a company owned and run by someone with Zuckerberg’s vision.
Facebook has used new ideas, good thinking and technology to connect over 1.7 billion people in 12 years. I see a future where Facebook.com will be the home page of the internet, winning in media and tech and advertising. It’s bound to happen, whether we like it or not.
Facebook has done, and will have to do a lot to make sure this possibility is not truncated. Bullying every small Organisation to hand over their businesses or get run over is definitely not one of them.
Sadly, for now, Snapchat will have to reinvent itself or die a fast, painful death.