View profile

Facebook contemplates whether it's too big

Revue
 
Programming note: The Interface will be off next week covering E3 for The Verge. When democracy is in
 
June 8 · Issue #154 · View online
The Interface
Programming note: The Interface will be off next week covering E3 for The Verge. When democracy is in trouble and social media is full of sadness, sometimes the best thing you can do is spend a week in LA playing video games for work. And as an additional heads up, I’ll be back next week but am taking the next two off for summer vacation. Need to rest up before the midterms! If you miss me, there will be a fresh episode of Converge waiting for you every Wednesday morning while I’m away. We’ve been recording episodes with some really smart, funny entrepreneurs and investors, and I’m excited to share them with you. 
Is Facebook too big to do a net amount of good in the world? That was the question asked today at the Personal Democracy Forum by host Micah Sifry. Samidh Chakrabarti, a director of product management at Facebook, had just given a talk about what Facebook does to encourage civic engagement on the platform. 
Sifry asked whether Facebook’s growth wasn’t actually at odds with real civic engagement. Hadn’t bringing 2.2 billion together done more to sow discord than bring them together? “Could Facebook consider rethinking its mission and slow its growth?” Sifry asked Chakrabarti. Would Facebook ever consider, he asked, “limiting the scale of friend groups to just the 150 people intimately close to them?”
I expected Chakrabarti to politely dismiss the question. Instead, he took it seriously. “Yes, I think everything is on the table,” he said. “All of these things need to be considered, with their pros and cons and so forth.” He noted that Facebook had changed its mission statement, largely in response to the events of 2016. The company is prepared to undergo radical change, he said. “Drastic changes to the platform are definitely possible.”
What would a more intimate version of Facebook look like? Until recently, my answer would have been “Instagram.” But I’ve been somewhat discouraged to see how rapidly that platform is absorbing Facebook features — turning it into a hub for professionally produced video, a la Facebook Watch, will be great for watch time and revenues, and useless-to-bad for building connections between friends. 
The company’s growth hackers are bootstrapping as much of the Facebook network onto Instagram as possible — note all those “Your Facebook friend [name] is on Instagram as [handle].” Instagram seems likely to inherit many, if not all, of its parent company’s problems. (I asked an Instagram executive how he thought about this at a breakfast last week, but I never really got an answer.)
Facebook’s other strategy to build intimacy has been to invest in groups — but as many journalists and researchers have noted, groups are often just as prone to spreading misinformation as the News Feed itself. 
In any case, it was at least somewhat heartening to see a person in Chakrabarti’s position opening the door to “drastic change.” Here’s hoping his bosses are open to it, too. 

Democracy
Facebook Gave Some Companies Access to Additional Data About Users’ Friends
Did Cambridge Analytica Change Facebook Users' Behavior?
Why Facebook’s secret data-sharing deal with Huawei has the US concerned
Elsewhere
Yahoo Messenger is shutting down on July 17, redirects users to group messaging app Squirrel
Launches
Snapchat frees Bitmoji Friendmoji from its app to now work across iOS
SeatGeek brings ticket buying into Snapchat
LinkedIn debuts Your Commute, navigation and maps to evaluate jobs based on how far they are
Takes
It's Not Me, It's You: App Store Reviews Show Tinder Users Can't Believe Nobody Likes Them
And finally ...
Sheryl Sandberg’s MIT Commencement Address Clearly References Personal Data Of Individual Graduating Students
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? E3 predictions? casey@theverge.com
Did you enjoy this issue?
If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here
Powered by Revue