|A deal with the devil.|
It was the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke who wrote, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." And clearly many people think that way about applications for smartphones.
- Facebook is delivering more videos to your timeline. It is not your imagination. Facebook calls it an improvement, but clearly it is taking advantage of video's power to hold people's attention so more ads can be shown. This is why the same goofy viral videos are re-shared by many of your connections.
- Reuters reported last September that Google changed its algorithm so that "in the news" search results now include company press releases. In some cases the company announcements are favored over reports by news organizations (including, of course, Reuters). This can reduce traffic to news sites and thus their advertising revenue, Reuters reported.
- Google has announced that it is giving preference in search results to mobile-friendly web pages. This may seem benign until you realize that Google is trying to capture more mobile traffic and advertising (paywall) that is now going to mobile applications. Facebook is one of the fastest growing competitors. Some websites are seeing declines in their traffic since Google made the change.
Joshua Benton of the Nieman Lab recently noted that Facebook is trying to persuade news media organizations to produce content specifically for its platform. No longer would Facebook wait for users to share news links; it would publish the news content directly and share the resulting ad revenue with the news publisher. (Matt Buchanan of the Awl explains how this model -- called distributed content -- works.)
(Update, Aug. 3, 2015. Facebook has launched the Instant Articles service to a limited portion of its audience.)
|Joe Dator cartoon from The New Yorker.|
And it is this user information that allows Facebook to direct targeted ads that are more effective and thus command higher rates because they anticipate your needs and desires (a whimsical notion of the magic of this technology is in the cartoon at left).
News organizations cannot hope to match the technology of social media platforms. The ones that have tried have failed.
The formula is not secret and it is not magic. The platforms have always understood that the value of their business is based on information about users. They have invested all their energy and resources into knowing the audience.
News media organizations have tended to took at their audience as mere consumers of their product. They produced information for users. But they did not see their audience itself as the product. So now, they have to rely on the platforms to reach their audience. The platforms are calling the tune, and they can change the tune when they like.
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