Saturday, April 23, 2016

Olivia Solon - How Facebook plans to take over the world

The scale of Facebook’s audience is unprecedented. More than 1.6 billion people use Facebook at least once a month, or half of all internet users. That’s before you count users on other Facebook-owned sites including WhatsApp, which has more than 1 billion monthly active users, and photo-sharing site Instagram, which has 400 million.

Facebook has also introduced its free basics service to 37 countries, offering a free but limited package of apps to mobile phone users, but which some critics say allows Facebook to tightly control the online experience of potentially the next billion people to come online.

“You hear all the platitudes about Facebook connecting the planet, but to say they are doing it for benevolent reasons is absolute nonsense. It’s about connecting commerce, not people,” says venture capitalist and former journalist Om Malik, who reminds us of the hidden agenda of social networking firms: if you’re not paying, you’re the product.

Facebook – which made $5.8bn of revenue in the last three months of 2015 – is able to make money from its users not just because of that unprecedented audience, but the amount of time they spend on the service. In the US the average 18- to 34-year-old spends 30 hours per month on social networking services, and 26 of those are on Facebook, according to analysts at ComScore.

Every click, every like, every comment and every connection is used to build up a rich profile of each user. Brands can then pay Facebook to target users based on their age, location, relationship status and interests. This is how Facebook makes its money – profiles of us that advertisers adore.

On the Facebook platform, the glue that keeps everyone hanging around is “content”. The first phase was personal – our status updates, thoughts, feelings and witty punditry, but we quickly learned that our friends weren’t as interesting as we thought. The second phase was photos. The rise of smartphones meant that everyone had a camera in their pocket and a newfound belief that a single image could tell a thousand words about their latte or hotdog legs. But not everyone is a great photographer… read more: