Results tagged “facebook”

Facebooking

One of the most dangerous things you can do on the internet is start depending on one other company almost entirely for your traffic. A few years ago, I ended up working briefly with a business that was built on search, and was almost wiped off the internet by the Panda update to the Google search algorithm. It was an SEO-driven business, but the change was so profound that SEO tactics couldn't recover it - it needed long-term content development that nobody in the business was geared up to deliver.

That business was eventually sold on, in much diminished form. Live by the algorithm, die by the algorithm.

Facebook Algorithm changes

All of which brings us to Facebook, which has become the dominant force in traffic generation for a new wave of online sites. This rather famous graph of Buzzfeed traffic sources illustrates that well:

facebook-google-buzzfeed-referral-traffic.png

The Facebook news feed is sorted via an algorithm; you don't see (by default) everything your friends and brands you've Liked post. Facebook makes a guess as to what is most interesting to you, based on a mix of your own actions and those of others, and then shows you that content. And they've just made a change that will impact some of those sites:

We’re making two updates, the first to reduce click-baiting headlines, and the second to help people see links shared on Facebook in the best format.

This is interesting, because they are two quite different situations, and worth exploring in depth.

Click-baiting

One of the big trends of the last year has been the rise of the "curiosity gap" headline, a headline that teases you with what you're about to get, but without making it absolutely obvious. It uses emotional manipulation - "you won't believe what happened next" - to get you to click through. This is almost the diametric opposite of the traditional search-driven approach of making the headlines as clear as possible. In fact, it's almost a reversion to the "clever" headline writing of print, but turned up to eleven.

It was a great idea - a headline format optimised for social rather than search. And it's been widely copied, and diluted as it spreads. Every last cheap'n'fast content site is using some variation of it, and the content the other side rarely lives up to the headline billing. Facebook can see that as it tracks user behaviour in detail:

One way is to look at how long people spend reading an article away from Facebook. If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable. If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them.

This is interesting - because this is now a common behaviour with Google which does exactly the same thing. If people bounce back quickly from your site to the search result page after following a search link, then your ranking will decrease over time.

As Mary notes, this is not fabulous news for the traditional - short - news story:

Increasingly, news sites are using stub articles – a few sentences or shorter – to break fast-moving stories, atomising them into smaller and smaller pieces. Those pieces might take seconds to read. If they’re promoted on Facebook, how does a news reader clicking through, reading the whole thing then backing out look different from someone clicking on a curiosity-gap headline then backing out because it wasn’t what they wanted?

There's certainly an argument here that the shift to stub articles is a mistake, and a misapplication of print values to a digital environment - but that's fodder for another post. The core message is that short news snippets are now unlikely to perform well in either search or Facebook-driven social media. And make no mistake, however obsessed we journalists are with Twitter, Facebook is still the really mainstream, big traffic site.

So, there's a pressure here towards longer or growing articles - or at least articles where we always give the reader a related next click or two - both from search and social.

It's interesting to note that, at the very least, Upworthy have been shifting away from the curiosity gap for a while. Why? Because it's been over-used by competitors, and is becoming noise. That's pretty much exactly why Facebook is making this change.

Link Formatting

It's been relatively well-known for a while that you can often get a link to perform better on Facebook by attaching it to a photo post - or a standard status update - rather than using the full link format:

Facebook Link format

Indeed, the general drift has been towards using the status update rather than the photo post in the last six months, as Facebook seemed to be down ranking links attached to photos.

Now, they're clamping down hard.

With this update, we will prioritize showing links in the link-format, and show fewer links shared in captions or status updates.

The best way to share a link after these updates will be to use the link format. In our studies, these posts have received twice as many clicks compared to links embedded in photo captions.

Pretty clear message here: stop trying to game the algorithm. If you want to share a link, use the link format. Sure, photos get more engagement, but that's because people like interacting around photos, not because they like interacting around photos and swallowing a link too, by mistake.

I suspect the net effect of this will be to decrease the organic reach of many poor quality pieces of content in the broadest sense. In many cases, organic reach was already plummeting, because people were focusing too much on their brand pages, and not enough on encouraging Facebook users to share things themselves. For one thing, it places much more importance on you having good Open Graph metadata on your pages, so you can effectively control how your link appears when published in Facebook.

(I've been publishing Open Graph metadata here for three years now. How are your sites doing on that?)

It means you have to work harder at picture choice and description text to encourage people to click through. And it means you need to craft the sharing post to "sell" the story. But, frankly, you should have been doing that anyway, if you wanted good traffic results from Facebook.

And you do want good results from Facebook. The Telegraph recently revealed that they'd boosted traffic by putting more effort into Facebook than Twitter, because more of their traffic was already coming from there:

“We have found that for every minute put into promoting something on Facebook, we get a significantly larger traffic boost than we do from Twitter. We still put energy into Twitter, but since there is a bigger bang for effort we put more into Facebook.”

Facebook is mainstream in a way Twitter just isn't right now. And that means that we have another ever-shifting algorithm to deal with, not just Google's.

And that's why you should never make your entire traffic acquisition strategy dependent on one - or even two - services whose behaviour you don't control.

Facebooking

One of the most dangerous things you can do on the internet is start depending on one other company almost entirely for your traffic. A few years ago, I ended up working briefly with a business that was built on search, and was almost wiped off the internet by the Panda update to the Google search algorithm. It was an SEO-driven business, but the change was so profound that SEO tactics couldn't recover it - it needed long-term content development that nobody in the business was geared up to deliver.

That business was eventually sold on, in much diminished form. Live by the algorithm, die by the algorithm.

Facebook Algorithm changes

All of which brings us to Facebook, which has become the dominant force in traffic generation for a new wave of online sites. This rather famous graph of Buzzfeed traffic sources illustrates that well:

facebook-google-buzzfeed-referral-traffic.png

The Facebook news feed is sorted via an algorithm; you don't see (by default) everything your friends and brands you've Liked post. Facebook makes a guess as to what is most interesting to you, based on a mix of your own actions and those of others, and then shows you that content. And they've just made a change that will impact some of those sites:

We’re making two updates, the first to reduce click-baiting headlines, and the second to help people see links shared on Facebook in the best format.

This is interesting, because they are two quite different situations, and worth exploring in depth.

Click-baiting

One of the big trends of the last year has been the rise of the "curiosity gap" headline, a headline that teases you with what you're about to get, but without making it absolutely obvious. It uses emotional manipulation - "you won't believe what happened next" - to get you to click through. This is almost the diametric opposite of the traditional search-driven approach of making the headlines as clear as possible. In fact, it's almost a reversion to the "clever" headline writing of print, but turned up to eleven.

It was a great idea - a headline format optimised for social rather than search. And it's been widely copied, and diluted as it spreads. Every last cheap'n'fast content site is using some variation of it, and the content the other side rarely lives up to the headline billing. Facebook can see that as it tracks user behaviour in detail:

One way is to look at how long people spend reading an article away from Facebook. If people click on an article and spend time reading it, it suggests they clicked through to something valuable. If they click through to a link and then come straight back to Facebook, it suggests that they didn’t find something that they wanted. With this update we will start taking into account whether people tend to spend time away from Facebook after clicking a link, or whether they tend to come straight back to News Feed when we rank stories with links in them.

This is interesting - because this is now a common behaviour with Google which does exactly the same thing. If people bounce back quickly from your site to the search result page after following a search link, then your ranking will decrease over time.

As Mary notes, this is not fabulous news for the traditional - short - news story:

Increasingly, news sites are using stub articles – a few sentences or shorter – to break fast-moving stories, atomising them into smaller and smaller pieces. Those pieces might take seconds to read. If they’re promoted on Facebook, how does a news reader clicking through, reading the whole thing then backing out look different from someone clicking on a curiosity-gap headline then backing out because it wasn’t what they wanted?

There's certainly an argument here that the shift to stub articles is a mistake, and a misapplication of print values to a digital environment - but that's fodder for another post. The core message is that short news snippets are now unlikely to perform well in either search or Facebook-driven social media. And make no mistake, however obsessed we journalists are with Twitter, Facebook is still the really mainstream, big traffic site.

So, there's a pressure here towards longer or growing articles - or at least articles where we always give the reader a related next click or two - both from search and social.

It's interesting to note that, at the very least, Upworthy have been shifting away from the curiosity gap for a while. Why? Because it's been over-used by competitors, and is becoming noise. That's pretty much exactly why Facebook is making this change.

Link Formatting

It's been relatively well-known for a while that you can often get a link to perform better on Facebook by attaching it to a photo post - or a standard status update - rather than using the full link format:

Facebook Link format

Indeed, the general drift has been towards using the status update rather than the photo post in the last six months, as Facebook seemed to be down ranking links attached to photos.

Now, they're clamping down hard.

With this update, we will prioritize showing links in the link-format, and show fewer links shared in captions or status updates.

The best way to share a link after these updates will be to use the link format. In our studies, these posts have received twice as many clicks compared to links embedded in photo captions.

Pretty clear message here: stop trying to game the algorithm. If you want to share a link, use the link format. Sure, photos get more engagement, but that's because people like interacting around photos, not because they like interacting around photos and swallowing a link too, by mistake.

I suspect the net effect of this will be to decrease the organic reach of many poor quality pieces of content in the broadest sense. In many cases, organic reach was already plummeting, because people were focusing too much on their brand pages, and not enough on encouraging Facebook users to share things themselves. For one thing, it places much more importance on you having good Open Graph metadata on your pages, so you can effectively control how your link appears when published in Facebook.

(I've been publishing Open Graph metadata here for three years now. How are your sites doing on that?)

It means you have to work harder at picture choice and description text to encourage people to click through. And it means you need to craft the sharing post to "sell" the story. But, frankly, you should have been doing that anyway, if you wanted good traffic results from Facebook.

And you do want good results from Facebook. The Telegraph recently revealed that they'd boosted traffic by putting more effort into Facebook than Twitter, because more of their traffic was already coming from there:

“We have found that for every minute put into promoting something on Facebook, we get a significantly larger traffic boost than we do from Twitter. We still put energy into Twitter, but since there is a bigger bang for effort we put more into Facebook.”

Facebook is mainstream in a way Twitter just isn't right now. And that means that we have another ever-shifting algorithm to deal with, not just Google's.

And that's why you should never make your entire traffic acquisition strategy dependent on one - or even two - services whose behaviour you don't control.

Second video of the day:

It's rather ironic that it hit the web a few days before the news that Facebook is running experiments on our emotions.

There's a whole bunch of interesting research to be done on constructed identity using social networks, and I bet every single person on here is guilty of it to some degree. I very rarely see the sadness and difficulty of people's lives reflected in social networks - so much for radical transparency, huh?

However, Facebook's approach here is just uncomfortable. As Mary puts it:

Where things get rather concerning is the part where Facebook didn’t bother telling any of its test subjects that they were being tested. The US has a few regulations governing clinical research that make clear informed consent must be given by human test subjects. Informed consent requires subjects to know that research is occurring, be given a description of the risks involved, and have the option to refuse to participate without being penalised. None of these things were available to the anonymous people involved in the study.

Consent matters, people.

Is Facebook becoming a good old fashioned conglomerate? Felix Salmon thinks so:

Zuckerberg knows how short-lived products can be, on the internet: he knows that if he wants to build a company which will last decades, it's going to have to outlast Facebook as we currently conceive it. The trick is to use Facebook's current awesome profitability and size to acquire a portfolio of companies; as one becomes passé, the next will take over. Probably none of them will ever be as big and dominant as Facebook is today, but that's OK: together, they can be huge.

Facebook is no longer a one trick pony company. That's a survival strategy.

The Facebook game has changed, and anyone who is surprised hasn't been paying attention. Social@Ogilvy published research showing that the reach of posts from brand pages on Facebook has been plummeting, something borne out by the couple of pages I have a hand in running. Here's a graph they used to prove it:

Organic-Reach-Chart.png

Ewan Spence sums up the core message:

The research goes into more details, but the implication is clear. The free ride for brands on Facebook is coming to an end, and Mark Zuckerberg's network should now be moved into the 'paid channel' in the marketing budget. The end game here is that a message posted on a brand page will not be shown to anyone unless it gathers a notable number of likes from a user's friends. If their friends like a post, if there is a visible adoption of the post by the community, only then the post has earned the right to be shown organically.

Edged out of the algorithm

I am surprised that anyone is surprised by this. Two things suggested that this was the likely endgame:

  1. Facebook has been aggressively algorithmically managing your news feed to keep it relevant for a long time now. Switch from "Top Stories" to "Most Recent" in your settings, and you'll probably see quite a different news feed. Why do they do this? As the volume of content shared into Facebook goes up, the relevance to you tends to go down. It's the classic signal/noise ratio problem. Their solution is to try and filter out the noise for you.

Facebook preferences

  1. Facebook is an ad-funded service. It doesn't care how much time and money you've spent on a social media agency to build page Likes, because that's bringing it precisely zero revenue. Up until now, Facebook has been giving you free advertising, even if you've been paying someone else to access it. A commercial business giving away its core product for free is not a sustainable solution.

So, where does that leave you? Well, you have two choices. The first, and most obvious, is to pay. Hello, paid marketing That's OK - you're essentially just paying to have an advert for your content drop into people's news feeds. Advertising like any other.

Putting the Social in Social Media

Your other option is harder - but the one that's probably the most sustainable for journalism and content businesses. It's something you can't just throw money at, or hire somebody to do easily. It's about creating content that people want to share - and then making it easy for them to do so. The best way to get traffic right from Facebook right now isn't through brand pages - it's through getting people to Like and share you content - and that means creating things they want to Like and share. That's the hard bit. And you're up against people like Buzzfeed who are really good at that. Here're their traffic from search versus their traffic from Facebook:

facebook-google-buzzfeed-referral-traffic.png

So, in effect, we're in a situation that almost exactly parallels search. For something to rank in search, people have to "share" it by linking to it. Then a whole bunch of other factors come into play to determine whether it'll appear on your search result page. For you to get significant Facebook traffic, people will have to freely share your content into Facebook, and then a whole host of other factors (based on potential viewers' prior actions and how people react to that content) kick into play to determine how widely it's shared.

The Search/Social Divide

The difference is that people tend to search for answers to questions. Any published pages that's ore complex in its execution and ideas than that is probably going to be better served by social sharing - and Facebook is still the 800lb gorilla on that front.

If you weren't taking SMO (Social Media Optimisation) seriously already, you really have to be doing so now. That means sorting out technical stuff like Open Graph markup on your pages, but also the softer side of understanding how to write in way that are sharable. It also means understanding how to use your own staff to "seed" the process.

Ready for all that? If not, you better get the credit card out...

Cliff Watson:

You see, we’ve come to define “social” in unintentional Orwellian double-speak. “Social” has come to mean the exact opposite of what it’s meant for centuries. Instead of actual interaction and communication, we define “social” as once- or twice-removed ego validation through button-clicking.

When we've come to understand "social" as meaning "corporate-mediated communications, within defined parameters, interruptible by branded messages", one is rather tempted to despair about humanity…

However, it makes it rather plain that the clock is ticking on "social" as we know it right now, and that's a good thing. I've just seen a community I'm a member of almost wiped out by a single troll and some automatic button-pushing at Facebook. That's no way to build a sustainable set of relationships.

Are people rejecting the idea of a single online identity mediated by a large online entity? Stowe Boyd thinks so:

The Benthamite underpinnings of Facebook are becoming unpopular. Young people in particular don’t want their teachers, parents, employers, and even all their friends to know everything going on in their lives. Oh, and the government. People want to have multiple, contextually defined identities, different circles of knowing, different non-overlapping rules of attraction. Everything is not everything.

This, to me, seems the real lesson of teens' use of social media. They're seeing the dangers of centralising our online identity through the close-and-present authority figures of teachers and parents. We miss it because our authority figures are more distant. But the NSA are doing a bang-up job of bringing that reality home to us.

Twitter drives a tenth of the traffic that Facebook does to news sites. So why are journalists so obsessed with Twitter?

Well, there's a good reason:

The reason, I think, is that Twitter is simply more useful for our jobs. For better or worse, it's where news breaks today. It's also where a lot of real-time reporting happens.

And a bad one:

The fact that so many journalists are on Twitter has made Twitter incredibly professionally valuable to journalists. Tweeting your articles ensures they're seen -- and discussed, and retweeted -- within a community that includes not just your friends and peers, but the people who might hire you someday.

There's also one he doesn't mention: Facebook is harder to use than Twitter. To get maximum return from it journalistically, you have to cultivate a subscriber community, understand how the algorithm-that-replaced-Edgerank works, and be prepared to maintain a community so that your posts keep appearing in news feeds. Twitter looks broadcast-y enough that journalists can get their heads around it easily.

Still, missed opportunity...

Interesting thing that happened while I was away: Facebook posts became embeddable by all.

For example:

That's one heck of a potential resource for reporters pulling together witness accounts and the like. I'm amazed it took them this long to do it.

Channel 4 news ran a big investigation into Facebook Likes last week:

As Facebook has grown to 1.15 billion users, gaining "likes" or fans, the social network has become a valuable marketing opportunity for companies. One social intelligence company put the value of a like at £114, and the number of Facebook fans - along with Twitter followers and YouTube hits - has become a marker of popularity in the digital age. But while legitimate marketing businesses have sprung up to help boost fans, there are just as many illegitimate companies that offer fans for sale.

'twas ever thus. The history of the last couple of decades of the web is the story of tension between people playing fair and people trying to buy their way to success. A significant chunk of the SEO business is built around getting sites higher search ranking than their content deserves - and birthing horrors like comment spam along the way - and now an industry springs up to fake social impact by any means necessary.

Whatever is powerful is ripe for abuse.

I'm far more sanguine about this than I used to be. As the signal-to-noise ratio rises ever higher on social media, the spammers, snake oil salesmen and carpetbaggers eventually move on to the next easy target. When things get hard, they don't want to play any more - and that's when those with real skills reap their rewards.

Today in "about bloomin' time" news: Instagram introduces web embeds. Up until now, using an Instagram image in your article or post involved downloading it and adding it into your CMS. Now, you just embed it with a tiny chunk of HTML. The image above is an embed.

To grab the code, just go to the web page with the image, and click on the sharing icon (the box with an arrow coming out of it):

Instagram ebeds

It's astonishing it's taken this long to happen. The inclusion of embeds was the critical factor behind the growth of both Flickr and YouTube in their early days. Has it really taken Instagram this long to notice that half the web is already embedding their images?

Generally, this is good news for journalism businesses, though. A lot of the lingering copyright worries about using Instagram images from news events can be alleviated by using the embed code which always links back to the creator's own Instagram stream.

Marco Arment has used the demise of Google Reader to explore how Google has changed since the rise of Facebook - and how the big three web players (Facebook, Twitter and Google) are no longer "webby" in the sense we once used the word:

The bigger problem is that they’ve abandoned interoperability. RSS, semantic markup, microformats, and open APIs all enable interoperability, but the big players don’t want that — they want to lock you in, shut out competitors, and make a service so proprietary that even if you could get your data out, it would be either useless (no alternatives to import into) or cripplingly lonely (empty social networks).

The rather annoying part of all of this is that these services initially built their success on open web principles:

That world formed the web’s foundations — without that world to build on, Google, Facebook, and Twitter couldn’t exist. But they’ve now grown so large that everything from that web-native world is now a threat to them, and they want to shut it down. “Sunset” it. “Clean it up.” “Retire” it. Get it out of the way so they can get even bigger and build even bigger proprietary barriers to anyone trying to claim their territory.

I can see the appeal of the proprietary platforms to both individuals and companies. Brands want single companies they can deal with, while individuals don't want all the hassle of maintaining the infrastructure to support their presence. Companies, though, should think twice before handing their online profile over to a company like Facebook who can change - and diminish that presence - at a whim. Facebook can be part of a strategy, but should never be the only home to it, unless you're willing to cede effective ownership of your presence to a third party - two third parties, if you're using an outside agency to a mange that work for you. Equally, individuals who have a vested interest in maintaining a web presence - artists, consultants and the like - should be wary of putting time and effort into a platform they can't extract their data from.

I think it's beholden to those of us who remember and understand what the open web standards were about - interoperability, data portability and their ilk - to keep fighting those battles, and to keep promoting their benefits to the people who "own" content and materials that they value. Those proprietary platforms are useful, and shouldn't be ignored. But they shouldn't be trusted, either. Who knows which service will be the next to be shut down - and how easy it will be to reclaim your data and content.

Or, as Marco puts it:

Well, fuck them, and fuck that.

Update: Just after posting, I saw Neville Hobson tweet this:

Further evidence, if you needed it, that Google is slowly backing away from providing useful tools that link their systems with yours.

Facebook's dirty data

Interesting argument that Facebook's graph search is going to be inherently flawed, because Facebook's data is dirty:

It turns out as much as half of the links between objects and interests contained in FB are dirty—i.e. there is no true affinity between the like and the object or it’s stale. Never mind does the data not really represent user intent... but the user did not even ‘like’ what she was liking.

How is this possible? Let me explain.

In the brand advertiser world CPMs have been the preferred measurement (people aren’t going to click an ad for Coke; instead its purpose is to influence you). For the past several years big advertisers on FB have actually been directing massive amounts of paid media to acquire fans. They quite literally bought likes.

Facebook's Two Worlds

Richard Stacy:

I was using this point to illustrate the main theme of my presentation – namely that we now have two worlds: the world of the audience and the world of the individual […] Up until this point there has only ever been a world of the audience and as a result, most brands are simply trying to push approaches designed to be seen by audiences (i.e. lots of people) in front of individuals or groups.  And, of course, this doesn’t work.

Nice piece which takes a rather soul-destroying list of the top three most "engaging" posts on Facebook and draws some interesting conclusions from it.

Zombie Likes

A rather disquieting piece on Facebook Likes you don't remember giving - and people apparently Liking things from beyond the grave:

Thing is, according to my pal Brendan O’Malley, there’s no way that his late friend Alex, who “hated corporate bullshit,” would have “liked” Discover.

And what about all these other “likes” from living people, the ones where someone is credited with “liking” something and they swear they didn’t do it?

The Facebook spokesman says it’s possible those people “liked” something by accident, by inadvertently pressing a button, perhaps on the mobile app. In response to the specific example of Nicolala liking Walmart, Facebook insists it really did happen: “We show that the Like happened on 10/01 at 6:46 p.m.,” the spokesman says.

 Peter X. Deng

David Kirkpatrick's chat with Peter Deng about Facebook at Le Web last week looked, at first, like a ho-hum product announcement, but the more I think about it the more I'm convinced that it gave us an insight into what the Facebook of the future might look like. It'll be on your mobile - and it'll be the hub of your communications. Yes, Facebook is looking to reduce e-mail and SMS to irrelevance, and claim that online communication space for its own.

Deng was clear that Facebook is now a mobile-first company. Everything they build has to be focused on mobile, with a great mobile experience. They're still investing heavily in the website, but they're serious on mobile. 

Mobile is fundamentally different, he suggested. These devices are always with you, they're interruptive and they're logged in as you. They buzz in your pants. They demand you attention. 

Deng's product announcement that Facebook Messenger - what used to be its chat function, but which is steadily becoming an all-purpose SMS and e-mail replacement, with a touch of Twitter's direct messaging - can now be used without a Facebook account is another step on the service spreading beyond its core site. You can now use a Facebook product by shooting photos in Instagram or communicating on Messenger, without ever logging into the core site.

The implication? That Facebook is seeking to be a central point of communication for us. All three of its core services - Facebook, Messenger and Instagram - communicating. It's already providing all its user with e-mail addresses that can aggregate their e-mail communication into Facebook Messenger (mine's adamtinworth@facebook.com, should you wish to contact me that way) - and pushing those e-mail addresses into people's iOS address books. For people who sink into that ecosystem, they can exchange information visually, in words and on mobile without ever having to touch e-mail, or SMS or traditional communication methods. 

When Kirkpatrick asked Deng why they were doing this, he replied: "Because Facebook is about communication, and this is a really cool idea."

If I were a mobile network operator, I'd be sweating right now. Sure, Apple has had a go at the internet-based SMS killer with iMessage, but that's limited to iOS devices, just as its spiritual predecessor BBM was limited to BlackBerry devices. Facebook is building something that is on every mobile phone, but which is potential completely independent of them. You can swap device and operators without ever impacting your friends and contacts' experience of trying to reach you. It switches communication from being device-centric to being person centric, and your network - your social graph - is already locked away in the cloud, ready to spring into life on any device you choose.

Facebook is making a stealth pivot into a new part of our lives, just as its competitors are struggling to catch up to where it is now. Zuckerberg's baby is going to be a hard one to catch...

Kevin systrom

Kevin Systrom, Co-Founder & CEO, Instagram, interviewed by MG Siegler, General Partner, CrunchFund

Breaking news just before the talk - Instagram has stopped supporting Twitter cards, which mean that Instagram photos now only appear as links in the Twitter stream, rather than photos. Why?

"This is an evolution of where we want links to where our content goes," says Systrom.

They were one of the first to implement cards on Twitter. But they realised over time that they did need to build an awesome web presence. Joining Facebook allowed them to staff up their web team, so they now want to direct users there so they can get the full experience. They want users on instragram.com.

Doesn't this change the commitment made when Instagram was acquired by Facebook to keep things the same?

"Things change as a company evolve, and I don't think we ever said that nothing would ever change," responded Systrom. 

His decision or Facebooks? "I think the decision is coming from me." It's not a consequence of being acquired, it's the right thing for their business, he suggests. 

Is it tit for tat?

"We have a really good relationship with Twitter," he insists.

No plans to pull the push of images to Facebook or Tumblr, though...

He admits that there was a lot of user angst after Instagram was acquired. They tried to counter that with a rapid pace of innovation. Their team of 16 is now 25. And they're hiring. They're based in Facebook's offices, and that's brought them Android and web resources. 

He had experience of M&A at Google, and he carried that over to his acquisition of Facebook to try and manage it well. He hasn't lost any staff after the acquisition so far. He likens the relationship to that of a startup's board - experience people giving good advice. There were 27m users when the acquisition happened, and 100m when it completed. That sort of growth needs smart people in the room. 

He hopes to leverage Facebook more - they want a billions users like the parent company. There are more mobile devices than desktop PCs, so that's their focus. 

MG seiglerWill Instagram always stay a stand-alone product? The current plan is that it stays outside like the Messnger app. "We have a different graph." But they want to figure out when the intersection of the venn diagram, is, and what they can do with those people. That shows an independent product and brand within Facebook - like YouTube in Google. 

Can Instagram live on if its founders leave? The best advice Systrom read was that you should build an organisation that can outlive its founders, and Steve Jobs tried to do with Apple. 

Do Facebook want to make money off them? "They want to make value from us," he says. Wether that's engagement on Facebook or revenue, they're still discussing. But he points out the use of Instagram in disasters like Hurricane Sandy shows how much value there is in the system already. 

It doesn't annoy him that people talk about Instagram as a successful company - because it is one. He suggests that humans are good with patterns, so it's inevitable that people will use the pattern of Instragram to help define their vision of something else.

He thinks video will happen eventually, but the timing is very, very hard. The timing will tip. 

Going Native

Tumblr's iOS app

Tumblr, on its iOS app store description:

We're so thrilled to tell you that our app is now completely native! Get ready for a faster, smoother, and more responsive Tumblr Dashboard.

So, another major social app follows Facebook in abandoning an HTML wrapper app and going full native. The message seems clear: if speed matters, go native.

The Back to the Blog challenge

Steph:

For the next ten days, starting tomorrow (Tuesday), I'm going to write a post a day. I'll keep it short: blogging used to be quick and dirty, and somewhere between the arrival of Facebook and Twitter, posts have started growing into long essays that take hours to write.

Great idea. I'm getting increasingly uncomfortable with handing over content to Twitter and Facebook just because it's short. This is a space I own and control. I need to nurture it more... and so I'm joining in.