Facebook is a commercial business. Facebook makes decisions which it believes are best for Facebook. Facebook is out for number one.
All the above are statements of fact. So when fears grow that Facebook might be about to make a change to its product which could leave publishers in a bit of a jam, one emotion that really shouldn’t be expressed is surprise.
After all, Facebook has form with doing this sort of thing when it believes its interests are not best being met — regardless of whether that might be hurt publishers in the process.
Back in 2011, with much fanfare at Facebook’s f8 conference, the Guardian, Independent and others launched what were referred to as social reader apps. Essentially what they did was allow a Facebook user to share what news stories they’d been reading with their Facebook network.
Mark Zuckerberg himself referred to these as having “the ability not only to change the way we think about news but have the ability to change the way the whole news industry works”.
Alas, it turned out that people weren’t actually that keen on broadcasting to all and sundry what stories they were privately reading and the user feedback Facebook presumably quickly got back was that this was a bad idea.
And so the much-feted social reader app experiment disappeared within a year, despite a number of publishers having sunk significant development cost into the project — with some publisher apps never even seeing the light of day.
And you can’t blame for Facebook for pulling the plug. If something is not delivering the user experience that is required then it should be shelved, regardless of collateral damage.
So, six years on and with concerns whirling that Facebook might be readying to move all publisher posts into a separate (lower-profile) Explore Feed — with the inevitable reduction in referral traffic that would bring with it — the thing to remember is that user experience will prevail.
Which means that if Facebook’s current crop of tests spits out data to suggest that users dwell longer and engage more deeply with a feed shorn of publisher posts then a feed shorn of publisher posts is what will surely come to pass.
Conversely, if it turns out that scrolling seamlessly between a post from a friend and one from a publisher you follow is what Facebook users want then that is what will continue.
Either way, what publishers have to accept is that, in a world where much of their digital audience comes from and exists on Facebook, if Facebook decides to make a change which it believes is the right one and that happens to hurt publishers then that’s just the way it is.
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