On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of taking part in CTV’s regular technology panel, wherein we discussed a number of topics. Two of them got me to thinking about the past, present and future of the internet, and how companies are born and developed on it.
The two topics in question were the latest Facebook privacy-advertising follies and Tadaa, a competitor app to Instagram. Respectively, they seem to represent the present and future of the internet.
Let’s start with Facebook. The social network on Tuesday announced it has started testing ads in its news feed, which is an effort to take advertisements out of users’ side bars and right into their main column of updates. Putting those ads front and centre not only makes them more noticeable, it also makes it possible for Facebook to display them in its mobile app, although it doesn’t appear to be doing that just yet.
As with everything the company does, there’s a backlash. Norway’s consumer ombudsman, for one, says displaying ads in users’ news feeds is tantamount to unwanted spam. While Facebook can (and probably will) retroactively change its terms of service so that such ads aren’t considered unwanted, the ombudsman may have a point.
Either way, it’s these types of things that are contributing to Facebook fatigue, or the phenomenon of site users who are getting tired of using the site. According to a recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, about 20 per cent of Americans had stopped using the site while more than 60 per cent admitted to taking breaks of a week or more from it.
Facebook is thus stuck between a rock and a hard place: it has to continually think of new ways to make money, yet somehow prevent more users from revolting.
That brings us to Tadaa, a photo-sharing app that bills itself as an alternative to Facebook-owned Instagram. The New York Times recently gave a nice review to the German service, which in January said it had gained 500,000 new users in the wake of Instagram’s big, Facebook-ian privacy goof back in December.
The fact that Tadaa exists and is potentially gaining momentum, seems to indicate that the big land grab for internet photo sharing is not yet over. As far as anyone knows, Facebook hasn’t yet figured out how to make money with Instagram. But, by paying $1 billion to acquire it last year, the company is pretty certain there’s gold in them thar photos.
Facebook is probably right, with photos likely to follow the same trajectory as the company itself. It’s a path and business model originally blazed by Google: create a service that attracts tons of users, then think of a way to monetize them after.
Google in this sense is the internet’s past. It wasn’t the first company to engage in a land grab – in its case, the search engine field – but it did figure out a way to do it better, and more importantly, to make money from it in a way that didn’t alienate users.
Facebook, the internet’s present, seems to be doing things completely the opposite of how Google did them. It too emerged as the victor of its respective land grab (social networks), yet it seems to be annoying and alienating users at every turn.
The land grab for photos is still ongoing and eventually someone’s going to figure out how to make money from them. The winner may not be the one who has the most users – which Facebook currently does, with Instagram’s 100 million – but the one who figures out how to be a little more Google-y in monetizing photos, and not quite so Facebook-y.