The advent of social media in general and Facebook in particular has changed the way we connect with each other. Facebook has become a central hub of socialization, the place that people go to for quite literally everything. Relationships are made and broken through the platform, the birth and development of children is tracked and lost loved ones are memorialized. From the mundane to the profane to the exalted, it’s all there.
Facebook has become in many ways, life.
Facebook has naturally grown into a place that people go for their news and their information, even their shopping. It’s expanded far beyond status updates and selfies, all developments that have been intentionally created on the part of the developers of the site. Every new feature, every minor tweak to the interface has been a conscious decision on the part of the people who run it and, and each one ends up creating ripples through the lives of a wide variety of people all over the planet. Past changes have included the addition of the “wall” in 2008, the timeline concept in 2012 and the Newsfeed.
Facebook has recently made some serious changes that are on track to revolutionize human interaction again, centralizing engagement even more. With over one billion active users, these new modes of engagement will have far reaching effects.
Until recently, you couldn’t access Facebook’s livestreaming function unless you’re were a verified user (a big brand, celebrity, etc.). Now that it’s widely available, it’s set to completely transform the way that people communicate with one another. There’s even a dedicated tab for Facebook Live on the mobile app, replete with new features. You can add doodles or filters to your videos and even discover livestreams around the world.
At first, social media offered a chance to read about what your friends and family were doing in real time. With the advent of photo sharing over social media, people became accustomed to being able to see images of the things that their friends and family were doing in real time. Then video came onboard, allowing users to share rich video content with their friends and family. Facebook Live will take that all one huge step further, allowing users to share the sights and sounds of life in real time.
This functionality will allow users to see who’s watching their video and to see real time comments. Once the session is over, the video remains on the Facebook stream – setting Facebook Live apart from livestreaming competitors like Meerkat and Periscope. Users will also have the option to control the audience in the same way that they do for other content.
Facebook allows individuals to have the kind of platform for interactions with that was once reserved for celebrities or large companies. Facebook Live allows users to take the next step in being able to share their lives with a wider audience, as well as giving businesses an additional functionality to share information in real time.
Sometimes what seems like a small change is actually a massive one. Facebook’s like button has been a huge cultural force as the platform has taken off, shaping the way that people interact with one another both online and offline. A form of nonverbal communication, the like button had become both hated and revered over the years of its use. The limitation of the like button was that not all content was “likeable,” and the ambiguity of the like was incredibly problematic. There just wasn’t enough latitude in the communication style to allow users the expression that they needed. Though the dualistic nature of the like button served its initial function, over time it had become clear that more options were needed.
In March 2016, Facebook rolled out a revolution in communication – Facebook Reactions. Now users can react in one of six different emoji including “like,” “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad,” and “angry”. What’s amazing about an emoji is that it mimics the nonverbal communication that we all learn naturally just by living with other people, only without the human body being part of the equation. Facebook performed extensive testing before rolling out this massive change, refining the specific characteristics of the images for each emoji.
What remains to be seen is whether and how this new latitude in reactions will shape the emotional interactions of users in the way that the “like” did. However there is no doubt that this change will shape user engagement in a big way. With freer expression, users will have a stronger and more complex voice.
Traditionally, articles that came through a person’s Facebook feed were in the form of links that took the viewer away from the platform. In 2015, Facebook launched Instant Articles, a service that embeds articles from top publishers into Facebook’s software in order to facilitate much faster load times. Initial partners included news giants like Buzzfeed, National Geographic, NBC News and BBC News, among others.
As is usual with Facebook, there was an initial rollout followed by a massive expansion. Today anyone can create HTML5 content that is optimized to the published standards and submit for review through the Instant Articles interface.
What’s the benefit of publishing through Facebook instead of on an outside website? One word – speed. Instant Articles are viewed within Facebook’s app on mobile devices, cutting out the transfer to an Internet browser and the load times that are associated with that move. Reports confirm that articles published on Instant Articles load a standard of ten times faster than linked articles.
Facebook insists that this move is to improve user experience, not to monetize or attempt to control content. Thus far that seems to be the reality. Instant Articles are not monetized in any further way than articles that are published outside of Facebook, so there is no preferential treatment involved in that respect. However because Instant Articles load faster, users are more likely to prefer them over those that are on other platforms, which means that they will be naturally more heavily featured in a user’s feed.
What this means is that Facebook is placing itself even more at the center of the user experience. Rather than people going to many different places in order to source their news and information, they again are drawn to this one platform. At the same time, Facebook is supporting variety in publishing by facilitating publication even for small scale businesses.
Though Facebook is a constantly evolving platform, these are major changes that will have effects that ripple across not only social media, but technology and society. Expect to see other platforms emulating these changes, and to see their effects everywhere that people interact.
What do you think Facebook will do next? Tell us in the comments!