May 16, 2012
Michael Harper for RedOrbit.com
There´s been a lot happening in the world of Facebook lately. In the days leading up to what is expected to be the largest IPO of any internet company, Facebook is covering some tracks and tightening up a few of their offerings.
While Facebook makes a push to beef up their services, some big name companies are deciding to leave Facebook, opting for their free advertising options instead of paying for clicks.
Lastly, could the social networking giant be getting ready to take on the likes of Google and serve up some ads to its users?
Get ready, it looks like this will be a huge week for Facebook.
If you can´t beat ℠em, buy ℠em and take their UI
When Facebook began to roll out their new desktop UI last year, which included the new Timeline and Cover Photo features, the mobile app lagged behind, not getting the full benefit of the new, clean look. Yesterday, the mobile app began to undergo a facelift which looks sort of...well, familiar.
When you share single photos on your wall with your friends, they are now displayed in more of a full fashion, making them a full three times larger than before, according to TechCrunch.
When a friend posts multiple pictures, a 3-photo preview is shown and in large fashion.
This subtle yet significant redesign definitely helps when looking at the latest pictures of your friend´s drunken antics, as you no longer have to tap the picture to get a better look at their red, glassy eyes.
These changes were likely made to drive Facebook´s mobile platform. As more and more people access the social networking site on their phones and tablets, it makes sense for Facebook to make this experience all the more enjoyable and even easier for their users. Therefore, these changes stand to increase the amount of time we all spend on our phones looking through photo albums and commenting on our friend´s posts.
A photo is worth 1 billion “likes”
Of course we all remember when Facebook announced their plans to buy popular photo-sharing app Instagram just days after they branched out from their iOS exclusivity and embraced the wild wild west of Android.
Facebook said they planned to drop $1 Billion on the fashionably small start-up, but the deal has yet to be made official by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They aren´t letting this stop them from borrowing some UI cues and buying yet another mobile photos app.
According to Engadget Facebook has purchased Lightbox, another small start-up run by only 2 people, Nilesh Patel and Thai Tran. This acquisition will likely allow Facebook to focus on the Android and HTML-5 side of mobile photo-sharing.
On their website, Lightbox is announcing the news, saying they will no longer be accepting new sign-ups. Users of Lightbox can continue to use the service until June 15th when the site will shut down. True to the open philosophy of Android and HTML-5, the startup code for the app is being hosted on GitHub. Perhaps some other advantageous developers will continue the efforts of Lightbox in the land of all things open source.
An interesting note: Similar to the backlash when the Instagram takeover was announced, the “Live Stream” feature of Lightbox is full of users either bidding farewell to their friends as if it were the last day of school or expressing their distaste in the buyout, wondering where they will share their photos and pledging to never use Facebook again.
No car buyers on Facebook
Turning to ads, it seems not every company is dying to use Facebook as a platform to reach their customers. According to the Wall Street Journal, American car maker General Motors (General Motors) is planning to drop all paid advertising on Facebook. According to the Journal, GM executives have "determined their paid ads had little impact on consumers." General Motors still wants to be a part of Facebook, they just don´t want to pay for it anymore.
This news couldn´t come at a worse time, of course, as potential investors won´t be pleased to see such a huge advertiser jump ship, especially considering that the largest American automaker has been spending nearly $40 million to maintain its presence on Facebook, $10 million of which has been going towards paid ads.
Making things more nerve-wracking are polls like those conducted by CSNBC which reveal 57% of Facebook users never click on ads or sponsored content when visiting the site. In fact, only 4% of users say they click ads: A small number, to be sure, but considering the millions of users Facebook has in their back pocket, even 4% can equal a lot of eyeballs. Furthermore, the new poll found 59% of respondents said they did not trust Facebook to keep their information private.
Facebook: Everywhere you want to be
Finally, in a web chat yesterday, Facebook´s head of privacy Erin Egan hinted towards a possibility of serving up targeted ads to users via third-party sites.
These kind of ads could potentially be useful in a perfect world. For instance, if you were to “like” a local band, you could randomly see an ad for that band´s new record on another website. If you didn´t know about this new album, you´d be pleased.
However, if you have been guilted into “liking” the insurance company your friend works for, be prepared to be offered plenty of online quotes elsewhere on the web.
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, puts it rather succinctly in a quote he gave to IDG News last Friday. "Facebook can't possibly protect the privacy of its users and grow as (a) publicly traded company. It's going to be increasingly difficult for them to grow their business significantly without collecting and monetizing more of its data," he said.
But, of course, Facebook needs to look after the interest of their new shareholders. When they go public, they no longer have to please their users first; they must be profitable. So, as they try to shore up their offerings in their weakest areas–such as mobile sharing–and make a case for profitability, it´s likely we´ll begin to see a very different Facebook as this year progresses. Whether or not these changes will be for the better is still yet to be seen.