Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ Are Coming – But Will They Be Good for Marketers?

As noted by Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox to Bloomberg – and re-affirmed by Mark Zuckerberg himself in this week’s Facebook full-year results announcement – Facebook’s ‘Reactions’ emoji toolbar will be available to all users soon. For those unaware, ‘Reactions’, which The Social Network announced back in October, is a way to give Facebook users the ability to respond to posts with something other than ‘Like’. The typical use-case of Reactions was explained by Zuckerberg at one of his regular Town Hall Q & A events last year:

“Not every moment is a good moment – if you share something that’s sad, like a refugee crisis that touches you or a family member passes away, it may not be comfortable to like that post… I do think it’s important to give people more options than liking it.”

For a long time, Facebook users have called for a ‘dislike’ option, but Facebook has (rightly) deemed that too negative and a tool that could lead to a lesser user-experience. Their alternative solution was to develop a toolset which utilises the rising trend of emoji, as well as the most common, one-word responses used across Facebook’s network, to create a set of emoji-type responses which people will be able to use in place of the traditional ‘thumbs up’.

Those emoji responses, based on Facebook’s data, have been refined down to:


In their first iteration, there was also another option:


But initial testing among users in Spain and Ireland found that ‘Yay’ was often misunderstood – and really, it’s largely redundant either way, given users already have ‘Like’ and ‘Love’ as options.

In application, when a user clicks/taps and holds on ‘Like’, a new pop-up will appear from which they’ll be able to choose a ‘Reaction’ that best fits their response.


So what do these new options mean for marketers? In a word: insight.

Some Facebook Pages already have a graph like the below, ready to track data from Reactions use within their Page Insights:


It’s evident from this that Facebook sees analytical and insight value in Reactions, and they’re giving Page owners the tools to track them, straight up – though interestingly, Facebook’s also made a point of noting that any ‘Reaction’, at least initially, will be measured as equivalent to a ‘Like’ in their system. So if someone clicks on your Facebook ad and selects ‘angry’ in response, that’ll actually increase the likelihood of them being shown more of the same content, because any reaction is counted as a ‘Like’, and within Facebook’s algorithm, likes are indicative of preference. While it’s understandable that Facebook wouldn’t necessarily have a way to measure the true value of Reactions in the early stages of their roll-out, the measurement of a Reaction as a Like does raise an interesting query – if a user tags their response to something as ‘Angry’, does that mean they want to see more or less of that type of content?

This is where the complexity of Reactions comes into play – what do those responses mean, in terms of audience interest and intent? And then, how will marketers be able to use that insight to better refine and maximize their content? This’ll be a big focus for social media marketing types over the next 12 months, and the only definitive way to establish what each Reaction means will come via experience and use. And even then, different Pages are going to see different results – a news service might see better engagement when they post content that generates more ‘Angry’ responses (as it’ll get more people talking about the topic, and thus, generate more reach), but then a brand selling natural soaps might see better website visits and conversion rates with posts which inspire more ‘Like’ or ‘Love’ reactions.

The only way to know for sure is through experimentation. The goal of all content is to generate an emotional response – emotion drives the majority of our responses after all (particularly in regards to purchases), so it makes sense, by extension, that having further insight into a users’ emotional responses to our content can only help inform our marketing decisions. But exactly what each response means, in a wider context, can only really be ascertained by seeing how it’s used across that expanded scope.

This is the same with all of Facebook’s data – one person deciding to ‘Like’ a Page in response to a post has little meaning in itself, but 1,000 people following the same path indicates a trend. When you extrapolate that across Facebook’s now 1.59 billion users, you can start to get an idea of how valuable even the simplest action might be, because it’s matched up against trillions of other data points and processes, and it’s in that wider sample size that genuine insight takes shape.

In this sense, the only way to know how valuable Reactions will be for marketers is to examine the data after they’ve been implemented and look for usage patterns and correlations. And they will be there. More data – especially more emotional data – can only be beneficial.

And at some stage, you may just find that Reactions data is able to highlight insights that would have never been discernible via Likes alone. Powerful, indeed.

How Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm Really Works

facebook-f-logo-1920-800x450Late last year, I attended an education session on Facebook’s News Feed algorithm, conducted by a social media lecturer of relatively high standing in the field. The session sounded great – insight into how Facebook’s News Feed algorithm actually works, the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of what appears in your News Feed and what brands can learn and implement in order to boost their organic reach. Organic reach, as anyone with any exposure to social knows, has been declining at a rapid rate – brand Pages these days are lucky to reach 10% of their total fans with each of their Facebook posts.

The info session sounded like a great learning opportunity, a great way to get some insight into how to work with the algorithm to maximize Facebook performance.

Except, the information presented was largely wrong.

This person, who speaks and presents to a great many people on social media best practices, outlined strategies that were either out-dated, ill-informed or just plain incorrect, yet stated them as total fact. And as other attendees narrowed their eyes and nodded along, I felt like standing up and saying ‘no, that’s not right’. But then that would assume I was right, and given Facebook’s secrecy around the specifics of their News Feed algorithm and how it works, maybe I actually had it wrong. Maybe what was being presented here was the correct info.

In order to get to the bottom of this and clarify for all those looking to maximize the performance of their Facebook content, I did some research into what’s known about Facebook’s News Feed algorithm and how it selects what content will be shown to each user, every time they log on. And while we can’t know every specific factor that plays a part in how content is distributed on the platform, there are quite a few well established principles that clearly indicate the path to best performance.

Seeking Attention

First off, a bit of history.

When Facebook launched News Feed back in 2006 it was a straight-up, chronological feed of all the activity of your connections.


Remember that? The basic looking blue links, the green speech bubble comments.

The ‘Like’ button was introduced a year later, giving Facebook its first insight into what users were actually interested in, and as Facebook became more popular, and more people started using the service – and the News Feed, logically, got more cluttered – Facebook started using those Likes (along with other measures including shares, comments and clicks) as indicative signals to prioritize the content appearing in each users’ News Feed to ensure posts from Pages they’d indicated interest in appeared higher in their stream.

This worked for a while, but there were a couple of problems with this basic approach.

The first issue was that people clicked ‘Like’ for different reasons – funny cat pictures were getting heaps of Likes, and thus, flooding peoples’ News Feeds, while more serious news content, which people weren’t clicking ‘Like’ on (because they didn’t necessarily ‘Like’ it), was being totally buried. Publishing click-bait style headlines became a key tactic as these garnered lots of Likes and clicks, pushing them higher in News Feed ranks – eventually Facebook was at risk of losing their audience because people’s Feeds were being crowded with junk and there was no way, under that system, for Facebook to filter and uncover better, more relevant information for users.

In 2013, Facebook acknowledged it had a problem on this front and sought to correct it with a new algorithm that would uncover ‘high quality content’, the first iteration of the News Feed algorithm.

The second issue confronting The Social Network was that Facebook was getting big. Really big. People were adding more friends and Liking more Pages, meaning there was more and more competition for attention within the News Feed listings. But people only have so much time in the day to check their Facebook updates – according to Facebook, an average Facebook user is likely to have around 1,500 posts eligible to appear in their News Feed on any given day, but if people have more connections and Likes than average, that number could be more like 15,000.

Given this, it’s simply not possible for every user to see every single relevant post, based on their connection graph, every day. Facebook’s challenge with the algorithm was to create a system that uncovers most relevant content each day to provide every user with the best possible experience in order to keep them coming back. But that would also, necessarily, mean that Facebook would have to show some content people had indicated an interest in while excluding others which may also be of interest. The system needed to be incredibly clever to get this balance right.

“If you could rate everything that happened on Earth today that was published anywhere by any of your friends, any of your family, any news source, and then pick the 10 that were the most meaningful to know today, that would be a really cool service for us to build. That is really what we aspire to have News Feed become.” – Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer (to Time Magazine in July 2015)

These were the two major challenges facing Facebook in developing the News Feed algorithm, and despite the protestations of brands who were forced to sit idly by as their organic reach slowly declined (and who were rightly annoyed at Facebook for promoting Likes as a means of reaching audience, then reducing their relevance), the numbers show that Facebook’s machine learning curation process for the News Feed is actually working. In their most recent earnings report, The Social Network reported that engagement was now up to 46 minutes per day, on average, across Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, with Monthly Active User numbers also continuing to rise.


The continued rise of Facebook shows that they’re getting the user-experience right – brands don’t like it, many users don’t even know it’s happening, but the News Feed algorithm is working as a means of rationalizing and boosting user activity.

This finding, in itself, highlights just how much Facebook understands about their users and their likely preferences.

Inside the Machine

So how does the News Feed algorithm actually work? While the company’s understandably tight-lipped about the specifics of the News Feed calculations (largely because it’s continually evolving), the basics have been communicated by Facebook several times over the years.

Back in 2013, when Facebook introduced the first version of the News Feed algorithm, The Social Network noted four key points of focus for people creating content on the platform:

  • Make your posts timely and relevant
  • Build credibility and trust with your audience
  • Ask yourself, “Would people share this with their friends or recommend it to others?”
  • Think about, “Would my audience want to see this in their News Feeds?”

Those core principles remain the fundamentals of the News Feed – in a 2014 interview with TechCrunch, Facebook News Feed Director of Product Management Will Cathcart outlined a similar listing for the ‘most powerful determinants of whether a post is shown in the feed’:

  • How popular (Liked, commented on, shared, clicked) are the post creator’s past posts with everyone
  • How popular is this post with everyone who has already seen it
  • How popular have the post creator’s past posts been with the viewer
  • Does the type of post (status update, photo, video, link) match what types have been popular with the viewer in the past
  • How recently was the post published

Cathcart’s advice lead to development of this equation, which is a basic overview of how News Feed prioritizes content:


(Image via TechCrunch)

Of course, as noted, there are many more factors than these at play, but at its most basic, this is the logic behind how Facebook chooses and displays the most relevant content to each user. But that system is always being refined.

Those refinements are borne of necessity – more people using Facebook means more content and more variables to take into account to ensure the best possible user experience for each individual. To get an insight into just how complex that equation is, take a look at the documentation behind Facebook’s ‘Unicorn’ social graph indexing system. While Unicorn was built to power Facebook’s Graph Search engine, the way that system works highlights just how many factors can come into play when trying to uncover the most relevant content for each user – particularly when you consider that a typical Facebook user’s relationship graph looks like this:


In the Unicorn documentation, Facebook refers to the amount of ‘nodes’, signifying people and things, and ‘edges’, representing a relationship between two nodes:

“Although there are many billions of nodes in the social graph, it is quite sparse: a typical node will have less than one thousand edges connecting it to other nodes. The average user has approximately 130 friends. The most popular pages and applications have tens of millions of edges, but these pages represent a tiny fraction of the total number of entities in the graph.”

And in the introduction to the document, Facebook notes that:

“Unicorn is designed to answer billions of queries per day at latencies in the hundreds of milliseconds”

Even without a full grasp of the technical complexities of such inter-connectivity, you can still imagine how complex Facebook’s algorithm needs to be to serve up the most relevant content, and how many potential variations need to be taken into account.

This is why it’s almost impossible to explain the full extent of how the algorithm works, and why Facebook largely avoids doing so. It also enables them to make changes without worrying about what they’ve said previously – if Facebook were to say ‘this is how the system works’ then make a change that altered that, brands that had structured their Facebook strategy around the previous rule would be disadvantaged (which is pretty much what happened with ‘Likes’ when they changed the rules). As such, the core principles noted above remain the driving force, and the key elements marketers should logically be focused on. The further complexities and refinements work to support these fundamentals – adhering to them should keep you in good stead.

Constant Evolution

In line with this, Facebook’s always seeking to refine and update the News Feed algorithm to better serve their users and deliver an evermore relevant on-platform experience. Time Magazine recently reported on how Facebook uses two primary devices to help refine and improve the News Feed algorithm – a team of around 20 engineers and data scientists who assess and evaluate the results of tests and updates to determine the best evolution of the system, and a group of some 700 reviewers, called Facebook’s ‘Feed Quality Panel’, who deliver real, human feedback on their News Feed results, which then help the data team make more informed choices.

“…[members of the Feed Quality Panel] write paragraph-long explanations for why they like or dislike certain posts, which are often reviewed in the News Feed engineers’ weekly meetings. Facebook also regularly conducts one-off online surveys about News Feed satisfaction and brings in average users off the street to demo new features in its usability labs.”

Through this process, combining feedback from real people and improved machine learning, Facebook is continually moving the News Feed algorithm forward and uncovering new best practices. This is why we see so many changes and updates to the algorithm rules, newer factors like ‘time spent reading’ are brought in as Facebook learns from user behavior – content that people click ‘Like’ on before reading, for example, is not given as high a rating as content that’s Liked after reading (after a person has clicked through on a link), because if you’ve taken the time to read something and then Liked it, that’s considered a stronger endorsement of of quality than a knee-jerk response to a headline. Such refinements are logical and thoroughly tested, and Facebook’s gone to efforts to underline that the way the system is weighted is entirely dictated by each individual users’ actions and preferences.

The way Facebook’s algorithm defines ‘high-quality’ in this sense is entirely user driven – if you like cat memes but hate posts from The New York Times, you’ll be shown more of the former and less, if any, of the latter.

“…there’s a line that we can’t cross, which is deciding that a specific piece of information – be it news, political, religious, etc. – is something we should be promoting. It’s just a very, very slippery slope that I think we have to be very careful not go down.” – Adam Mosseri, Project Management Director for News Feed

Due to this, it’s up to each individual brand and business to create content that appeals to their specific audience, and caters to that audience’s needs.

It’s worth noting too, in considering Facebook reach and how to worth with the system to maximize reach and performance, that the actions users take after exposure to your content are far more important than them seeing it in the first place.

This was pointed out by Facebook marketing expert Jon Loomer, who noted that even if your Page reach has declined, that’s not really relevant – what is relevant is whether your website clicks have also declined as a result.

“Let’s assume for a moment that reach actually did drop. If all engagement remained healthy — including website clicks and conversions — what does that drop in reach mean? It would mean that Facebook was showing your content to people most likely to engage favorably — which is what we as marketers and users would want.”

It may just be that, as a consequence of Facebook improving their algorithm, that your Page reach will inevitably drop, because your content’s being shown to a more targeted and focused audience based on their behaviors. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In all, the main thing to focus on in order to maximize Facebook reach and response is quality content, as defined by audience response. The more utility and value you can provide for your audience, the more likely they’ll want to see more information from you, which they’ll indicate through their Facebook actions – be those direct (Likes, shares, comments, clicks) or indirect (time spent viewing, word-of-mouth via off Page comments). Facebook’s tracking all of it, and in this sense, the core fundamentals of Facebook content remain the same as they did the day the News Feed algorithm was introduced back in 2013:

  • Make your posts timely and relevant
  • Build credibility and trust with your audience
  • Ask yourself, “Would people share this with their friends or recommend it to others?”
  • Think about, “Would my audience want to see this in their News Feeds?”

The News Feed is constantly evolving, but its fundamental principles remain the same. Understanding your audience is key to maximizing your Facebook reach.


Why Periscope’s Latest Announcement is a Big Deal (and Why You Should be Paying Attention)

Periscope made one of the most significant announcements in their short history today – from now on, Periscope videos which are posted to Twitter will show up as playable in-stream content on iOS devices, as opposed to a link.

So, in essence, Periscope links (the majority of which are logically posted on Twitter) will go from this:


To this:

Pretty slick looking, huh? And as you can also see from the video, Periscope content will autoplay as you scroll through, so your live-streams will be exposed to a whole new audience – while Periscope, as of last check, has around 2 million daily active users (DAUs) who’re consuming the equivalent of 40 years of video content on the platform every 24 hours, it’s 10 million active accounts pales in comparison to Twitter’s 320 million monthly active users (MAUs). Reach is a core problem for live-streaming apps – in order to gain significant audience, there has to be a big enough group of people using the app in the first place to be exposed to Periscope content. Sure, you can alert people via other social networks, but discoverability is at least somewhat limited by people not being active Periscope users – and part of the problem in getting more people to become users of the app is that the content currently posted via live-streaming apps is such a mixed bag, there’s such a huge variance in quality and subject matter that the platform itself is not, for many, a highly compelling experience.

This update changes that, though some may not be fully aware of its wider potential impact.

Live and In Person

Content quality is a key limitation of live-streaming. Yes, platforms like Periscope, Meerkat and Blab provide an amazing opportunities for individuals and brands to connect with their audiences in a real, authentic way – looking people in the eye via webcam is likely the closest experience we can digitally generate to meeting someone in person (at least till VR comes into effect). But as anyone who’s ever logged onto any of the live-streaming platforms will attest, the content mix is very broad. Some would say that’s a good thing, as it gives more people more opportunity to express themselves in a new way. And while I do agree with the sentiment, that wide diversity of content also makes it a less compelling experience, as a platform. Or more importantly, the low quality content outweighs the good stuff, usually by a big margin, which doesn’t inspire visitors to stick around and view more content, or come back another time and view more.

This is why Facebook’s taken a more gradual approach to live-streaming – what Facebook’s done is they’ve introduced their live streaming option (creatively titled ‘Live’) to celebrities and people with verified profiles first, in order to get more of those people to post highly engaging content on the platform and build an audience with the tool. When those celebrities see that they can reach thousands, even millions of viewers, quickly and easily, that compels them to create more content – and because the general public can’t produce their own Facebook live-stream content, it also narrows the audience focus for Live, heightening the value of the each broadcast.

Now Facebook’s slowly opening up Live to all users, but where Facebook’s plan is very clever is that Facebook Live video is now dominated by celebrity content. If Facebook were to introduce a separate platform for all Live content – the way Periscope and Meerkat do with their broadcasts – the Facebook Live content channels would be significantly more compelling, in terms of wide audience appeal. As such, if Facebook were to do this, they’d also be able to generate better reach for Live users, as your Live content could be shown alongside that of celebrities, providing great exposure. Facebook haven’t indicated this is exactly where they’re going with Live yet, but such a move would make sense, particularly if streaming continues to rise in popularity and Facebook decides they want to beat out the other players in the field.

By upping the average quality standard for Live broadcasts, via a mixture of celebrity and everyday user content, Facebook’s working to beat out the quality issue that currently restricts live-streaming reach. Even if they don’t ever create a specific Live platform, Facebook’s already a step ahead, as their Live content appears in people’s News Feeds and autoplays like other video. Rather than trying to filter people to another app, Facebook Live content comes to you, and this is why today’s announcement from Periscope/Twitter is significant. By exposing Periscope content to a wider audience, through autoplay video in-stream in Twitter feeds, more people are going to watch Periscope content.

Likely, a lot more.

Next time you see a ‘Live on Periscope’ tweet, you won’t have to click on a link, it’ll just start playing in your tweet stream. And as it does, there’s a much higher chance you’re going to watch more Periscope content – maybe just for a moment, maybe just to see who it is and what it’s about. The probability of viewers sticking around to view Periscope streams is much higher, as it’s already right there, it’s playing in real time.

That immediacy, particularly in the case of live broadcasts, is significant, and it ups the value of Periscope as a broadcast tool by a lot. And what’s more, most people and brands have a lot more followers on Twitter than on Periscope, a much bigger audience to share their content with. Through this update, Periscope will become more appealing proposition for brands – imagine news reporters broadcasting live, in real-time, on Twitter, at any time. Similar can be done on Facebook, of course, but organic reach restrictions mean that you’ve got no chance of reaching all your followers, at least without paying for it (which could prove difficult to do in real time, either way). Twitter’s also (at least at this stage) still considered the leader in real-time coverage and breaking events, the place people go for breaking news.

The appeal of immediate, streaming content, direct from Periscope, will ramp up as broadcasters see their viewer stats climb with Twitter users clicking through. The emphasis still needs to be on entertainment, of course, on creating engaging, interesting Periscope content, but the audience potential will be much higher, the potential boost in overall viewership is big.

It’s not a game-changing move as yet, but it’s a logical progression, and one which could boost the utility of both Periscope and Twitter respectively.

That is, of course, unless Facebook makes a counter strike.

The Waiting Game

A few months back, I thought Periscope was onto something big when they announced the release of their Apple TV app, enabling viewers to watch Periscope content from the comfort of their couch. This, essentially, could make live-streaming a real entertainment option – theoretically, as you flick through channels on your TV, you’d be able to switch across to Periscope and see if your favourite ‘scopers were on too. Unfortunately, the app didn’t quite deliver on that promise – you have little control over the content displayed and you end up wading through streams of junk to find something good to watch – or, more likely, you just don’t. But the basic idea is still there, there could come a time where live-streaming becomes a viable broadcast option, if done right.

And this is where Facebook could really start to create some waves. A patent posted recently outlines how Facebook has (or had) plans in the works to further integrate Facebook into people’s TV viewing experience – with Facebook comments from friends shown on screen, the ability to recommend programs, even an option to prompt your pals, via Facebook, to switch channels and see what you’re seeing.


This is all controlled by a ‘social TV dongle’ that sits in between your set-top box and your TV.

socialTVSuch a system would effectively integrate Facebook directly into your TV viewing experience, bringing Facebook more in-line with how Twitter users multi-screen and participate in TV related discussions via show-specific hashtags.

Honestly, I’ve no idea how far along this project is, or was – the original patent was filed in September 2015 – but even seeing that Facebook has considered such options provides perspective on their possible, wider plans for live-streaming, and the potential capacity for The Social Network to make their live-streaming option a more powerful connective device.

Much like Apple TV, an integrated Facebook TV system could provide alerts when your favourite celebrities, or even your friends, were streaming on Facebook, which would, in effect, make Live it’s own TV channel. TV advertising’s long been the pinnacle of audience reach – imagine being able to generate that same reach via Facebook, cheaper (in terms of both production and promotion), more responsive and available at any time. Suddenly, you’d see attention on live-streaming ramp up, every brand would take notice, every business would be considering how to do it. DIY celebrities would have a whole new outlet, niche talk-shows could go massive, many internet stars would be born. This is what live-streaming advocates are talking about now, the coming future where streaming becomes a real entertainment option, when they’ll have the upper hand due their on-platform experience and audience. Right now, they sit at something of a middle ground where streaming hasn’t crossed over yet, but an innovation like Facebook TV could tip it over, updates like Periscope’s further integration with Twitter moves the needle closer to this next stage.

It’s not there yet, but it could be on the horizon, and every significant move in live-streaming moves it closer to this possibility.

While today’s announcement may seem small in isolation – it only relates to iOS (Periscope notes that the functionality is coming to Android and web soon), it just means Periscope content will play in-stream, no big deal. But the wider context of such a move is significant, because even if it doesn’t lead to any significant boost for Periscope or Twitter, it still pushes the wider case for live-streaming a little further, which likely boosts the value of the offering just that little bit more. And every time the value increases, so too does the potential for real money to be generated by the offering – and when real money’s involved, the bigger players pay more attention. That then increases the evolution of streaming, and that then moves us, again, closer to it becoming a more valuable tool, for both individuals and brands.

Maybe it’s not there yet, but the competition is heating up. It’s a segment worth paying attention to.

Here’s the thing…

Here’s the thing – the situation involving ISIS, Syria and any number of radicalised groups and individuals around the world is extremely complex. It dates back thousands of years, it’s rooted in a culture that most of us simply have no way of understanding. Not even the most informed international political experts are able fully get their head around the best way forward to resolve the conflicts at the core of the current issues. As such, the delineation between ‘us’ and ‘them’ – or at least, what we can do to bridge the divide between the two – is very unclear. But even in that scenario, there’s one thing that we know won’t resolve it and won’t lead us towards unity and, ultimately, a solution. And that is hate.

ISIS is fuelled by hate, bolstered by fear. They’re an organisation that thrives on chaos. The people who are sympathetic to ISIS’ cause are people who are lost, who are looking for meaning, and who subsequently go on to find it in whatever twisted doctrine ISIS provides. These recruits have no faith in what they’ve seen in the world, they’re looking for a new way. Many of these people are likely victims of previous battles in which Western nations have been involved – this is not to make a judgement on what’s been done, but you can imagine how someone who’s family has been devastated by war might be feeling alone and lost, and how the ‘brotherhood’ of ISIS might be able to fill that void, that need for family, and how they could stoke the fires of hatred to help further their own mission.

Given this, it makes perfect sense that ISIS is looking to attack western targets, or any targets where they can get the most attention and cause the most disruption. Because people see this and they’re scared. We see this and we want answers, we want to know what we can do to keep our families safe. So we need a bad guy, people need to point the finger at something. So we blame religion. And that’s an easy link to make, even logical to a degree, given ISIS is founded on religious principles. But by choosing hate we’re only doing what ISIS and other extremist groups want. In hate, we marginalise religious communities, we point the finger at people who’ve had nothing to do with any such attacks and who abhor them as much as we do. We subject innocent people to judgement and criticism and violence. And what happens to those people then? What happens to the person who sees no answer, has no faith in the good of humanity. What happens to the person who’s looking for another way?

By choosing hate, we only make ISIS stronger. If anyone were in a state of mind where they might be ‘at risk’ of radicalisation, we’re only going to push them further by showing them anger instead of empathy.

While fear is understandable in such a situation, and frustration is to be expected, we need to work to make ourselves rise above judgement and hate and consider new ways to move forward. Because if we don’t we’re only helping ISIS – and the next radical group, and the next one after that – in their ongoing mission to divide us and solidify their numbers through segregation – religious or otherwise.

Unity and community is the way forward in this battle. Understanding, not blame. While we’ll never be able to completely eliminate the risks of radicalisation and extremism, we’re only going to fuel them by justifying their beliefs in our actions. There are some who’ll never agree, but we can lessen their impact through acceptance of such differences.

I don’t claim to have an in-depth knowledge of the situation at hand, but I know that hate is never a constructive response.

My thoughts are with all of those who are suffering or have suffered in this conflict.

What’s Happening in Star Wars Episode VII: ‘The Force Awakens’


Warning: ultra-nerdy fanboy post about Star Wars ahead, please excuse this indulgence

The new Star Wars trailer came out last week, bringing with it a wave of euphoric nostalgia, the likes of which the web has never seen (it’s already broken pre-sale ticket records and the trailer has been viewed more than 48 million times). But one of the most amazing and skilful aspects of the new trailer – along with the preceding two – is that it tells you virtually nothing about the actual story. For all the droids and wookiees and light saber poking out the sides of the handles, there’s little-to-no linkage from one scene to the next – no one has any freakin’ idea what’s going on. And what’s more, with the film-makers noting that all the extended Star Wars universe comics and novels are not officially part of the new universe of the films, really, anything could happen. Ultra-fans are as in the dark as everyone else.

But of course, being a massive Star Wars geek, I can’t help but try to piece it together and think through what the story of Episode VII might be. Where is Luke Skywalker? Who is Kylo Ren? What’s that dude from ‘Attack the Block’ doing? Here’s what I think might, possibly, be the storyline of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’:

In the preview we see that The First Order, or the new Empire, have a heap of soldiers and vehicles – there’s no way these guys are in hiding with that much stuff, right?


That’s a lot of stuff…

My speculation is that The First Order is re-establishing the Empire, and is winning the battle in taking over the galaxy by force and placing themselves into a new position of power. The events of the original trilogy – now thirty years past – were a major setback for the Empire, but there’s obviously many who believe they need a uniting authority to oversee the galaxy. Chief among them is Kylo Ren, whose effectively the new Darth Vader.

So who is Kylo Ren? You’d think he has to be associated with either Luke or Leia, as they were the last living links to The Force that we know of, so the assumption would be that Kylo Ren is either Luke’s or Leia’s son. I think he’s Leia and Han’s son and, for whatever reason, he’s decided to go to the dark side – that’s why we see Leia looking upset in the trailer, and how Han, Leia and Chewbacca end up getting tied into the new storyline. There has to be a reason for them to come back into it, they don’t just rock up for something to do. I think Han is coming back to try and reason with his wayward son, but that he also knows his son is beyond logic. This leads Han and Chewie to the new characters – Rey and Finn.


I don’t think Rey or Finn are linked back to the original characters – some think that Rey saying ‘she’s no one’ in the trailer is an indicator that she’s trying to hide out in the desert, and that she must be Leia or Luke’s daughter, but I just don’t see that family ‘hiding’ another kid after the trauma they went through by being separated from their father in the original trilogy.

My speculation is that Rey is no one, but like Luke in the original series, she dreams of getting out of the desert and doing something more. I think Rey runs into Finn, who’s crash landed (as per the trailer) and wants to help him because Finn represents adventure. Rey shows Finn the wreckage of the old Empire, the old Star Destroyers and such, and in amongst that wreckage they come across Luke’s lightsaber – this is one of the original story notes JJ Abrams said would trigger the events of the new films, that someone would find Luke’s hand (which Darth Vader cut off at Bespin) and his lightsaber. I think that discovery is the ‘awakening’ mentioned in the second trailer.

Why is that an awakening? As noted in the latest preview, the people of the new Star Wars universe seem to be under the impression that the Jedi and the events of the past are something of a myth, they don’t believe they actually happened. This, I think, may be how the First Order is gaining power, because the people don’t believe they can fight back – resistance seems futile because The First Order has all the power, and they have this mystical, intimidating leader in Kylo Ren who simply seems undefeatable. As such, I believe this is what is enabling The First Order to re-establish the Empire, by sheer force and fear. But what if those old stories were true? What if the Jedi really did exist and there were a way to defeat this growing evil? Maybe the discovery of a lightsaber – a rumoured weapon of these mythical legends – would confirm their existence, and thus, empower the rebellion, or new rebellion, to believe they could actually win, giving them a massive boost. It’s like in ‘A Bug’s Life’, when the crickets note that if the ants ever worked out they out-numbered them, they’d be able to defeat them. Maybe a similar psychology is at play, and the confirmation of the existence of the Jedi would be enough to fuel them.

This is why it causes a disturbance – an awakening – and this is why we see Kylo Ren coming at Finn, who clearly has no idea how to use a lightsaber, in the preview. Kylo Ren’s come to take the lightsaber back and ensure no one knows about its existence.

This then leads to the wider journey of the story, where Han takes Finn and Rey with him on a mission to find Luke, because is the only one who can save them. Luke, meanwhile, has dropped off the face of the… universe. I’m not sure why, but he appears to *possibly* be on Mustafar, the volcano planet where Darth Vader originally fought Obi-Wan and lost.


For whatever reason, Luke has opted to stay away and go into hiding, like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him. But now, with Kylo Ren getting deeper into the dark side, and The First Order taking hold, Luke is their only hope to stop him, to talk sense into him to keep him from becoming the next Darth Vader.

Eventually, they find Luke, but so does Kylo Ren and here’s where the big conflict will happen – in order to stop him, Luke has to face off against his nephew, Kylo Ren. And Ren wins. This would then set up Ren as the key bad guy for the next three films, the key presence. The question then is how do they challenge him? Who’s left, with knowledge of the Force, to oppose Ren and Co. on their destructive path?

This is where the ‘the force is calling to you – just let it in’ line comes in. Maybe Rey is somehow more ‘open’ to the force due to some… thing I can’t think of. I believe Rey will become a Jedi, somehow, and will be the driving force behind the new resistance, with Finn at her side. But Rey will be the next Jedi, the leader, of sorts. It’d be an interesting twist, to have a female protagonist in such a major movie – and somewhere, maybe, there’s some link revealed between her and the previous trilogy, don’t know what that is yet. But that’s why I think Luke’s not featured prominently (because revealing anything about him might signal that he ends up in the ultimate battle with Ren) and why we’ll also see Luke go out like Obi-Wan only to be a guiding spirit in death (‘strike me down and I’ll become more powerful than you can possible imagine’).

There’s obviously other elements in there to tie in also, but that, I think, will be the main storyline. Either way, I can’t wait to see it play out.

News Content Becoming More Divisive in Order to Fuel Clicks – is That a Good Thing?

newsThe very nature of news, as we know it, is changing.

The way stories and issues are being reported in the modern age has been unquestionably altered by the new media landscape – everything you see, every story you read or hear, the method in which it’s been constructed has been fundamentally altered. The most notable change to the way in which news content is determined and subsequently reported upon is the shift in focus from wider circulation and total sales of publications to the individual performance of every single post and issue, based upon online traffic. No longer do publishers need to wonder what the audience wants, what people are more likely to read – now they know. They have it listed and graphed out, fed through on constant stream of data from their websites and social media properties.

This shift, which has evolved slowly over time, has impacted upon the entire media landscape. In a report conducted by NewsWhip, Muckruck and Edelman Media looking at the state of media consumption in the modern age – which took in the perspectives of more than 250 working journalists – 76% of the respondents said they now feel more pressure to think about their story’s potential to get shared on social platforms. That figure’s both unsurprising and disturbing. Understandably, as marketing spend shifts online, more focus will be put on digital traffic numbers, which are boosted by links, shares and comments – the logic behind this makes sense. But it also changes the whole dynamic of the journalistic process.

Because here’s the thing: if clicks are the currency of success in journalism, then balance and accuracy will increasingly be the price.

Why is that, you ask? Because the modern journalist is being incentivized, more and more, to write content that will get shares, as opposed to content that will best represent the facts. And there’s often a big difference between the two.

The Science of Sharing

Social media sharing is generated by emotion. A study by The New York Times found that 68% of social media users share content to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about. In this sense, it’s not about the news content itself, it’s about how that news content reflects their personal beliefs and views, what it says about them. It’s no surprise then that an analysis of the top 100,000 most shared articles from across the web found that triggering emotional response was key to maximising content reach.


Source: Huffington Post

Emotion is a key driver of social sharing and distribution, however in order to generate emotion, you need to be producing content that elicits emotional response. The easiest way to do this, in a news sense, is to write more sensationalised headlines or take a divisive stance.

In terms of sensationalism, BuzzFeed is the poster child for this (though there are many others). BuzzFeed became known for listicles and clickbait headlines – “you won’t believe what happens next…” This type of content is rife across Facebook, people can’t help but click on those posts with headlines like “Which Ninja Turtle Would You be?” Articles like this get a quick laugh and they get shared so others can be in on the joke, and thus, they generate significant traffic despite being criticised as something of a cheap tactic.

But while sensationalism is a concern, of more concern in the wider shift is the focus on divisive content. In the case of divisive material, the social shares and discussion generated around controversial topics and opinions actually incentivizes journalists to fan the flames of such arguments – because the longer debate rages on, the more content people want to read. In this sense, rather than social media bringing us closer together through understanding, it actually might be pulling us further apart, solidifying barriers and opposition between different sides of these arguments. Fuelling divisiveness is really a core requirement for the modern media outlet, and we’re starting to see this more and more in news coverage.

Divide and Conquer

In July this year, Cecil the Lion was shot and killed by an American dentist in an illegal hunting incident. No doubt you’ve heard about this one, more than 2,100 articles about Cecil’s death have been posted to Facebook, where they’ve been shared more than 3.6 million times. Mentions of Cecil on Twitter peaked at 900 tweets per minute – the virality factor of this story was huge. So what did publishers do? They wrote about it, resulting in an inundation of content about the story. The sheer volume of content written about this story highlights the new media process and the way in which news stories are defined. In this case, the story sparked a strong emotional response – anger – and that lead to more people wanting to share because it enabled them to show something of themselves, to demonstrate that they were against this kind of behaviour by sharing it online.

In this example, the story wasn’t particularly divisive – the vast majority of people were against the actions of the dentist at the centre of the case – but there were still groups and community segments who supported his right to hunt, and the way in which he’d gone about it.

The dentist, Walter Palmer, has maintained all along that he did nothing wrong on this hunt – that he went along with a group of guides and killed the animal in a legal and approved way. Whether that’s true or not is impossible for us to judge, but even if this individual hunt was illegally conducted, more than 665 lions are killed in Africa each year as part of these trophy expeditions. So while this individual case is terrible, there are a further 664 like it – the reality of the situation is that Palmer got unlucky, by his or his guides’ doing, and killed the wrong lion. And he’s being demonized as a result.

But what about the hundreds of other hunters? Most of them have got off scott-free in this case. Palmer’s home has been vandalized, his dental practice smashed up, a wide array of death threats have been levelled upon him from across the world. Palmer’s likely never going to recover from this, and whether you agree with his actions or not, he is only one part of a larger problem.

But here’s the thing – would it be to publishers’ benefit to broadcast the full, unbiased details of the story and the wider issue, or would it generate more emotion, and subsequently, more social shares, if they fuelled the fire and sought to further demonize this one individual for the sake of clicks?

I’ll give you a hint – here’s the second most shared article on Walter Palmer, which has generated more than 242k social chares, according to BuzzSumo.


Do we really need to know five fast facts about Walter Palmer? Yes, he’s the individual in question in this case, and definitely, it’s a story in the public interest. But surely further exemplifying him can only inspire more anger focussed in his direction – surely it’s of more benefit to be discussing the wider implications of exotic animal hunts and how we can take action to stop them.

But it’s not in the publishers’ interests to do that. While I’m not criticising the individual outlets – and I’m not suggesting Palmer should be portrayed in a sympathetic light – the point here is that the modern media landscape incentivizes publications to fuel anger and hatred, to generate emotional response that, on a wider scale, is really only detrimental to society as a whole.

You could, of course, argue that that’s the way it’s always been, there’s always been more coverage of controversial content because it sells papers. And to a degree, you’d be right, but the problem with the new variation of this process is that in an environment where media outlets are desperate to hold online attention, it’s often the voices of most polarization, or divisive vocal minorities, that are being given a disproportionate share of the discussion. Because they’re opinion is controversial, and controversy drives clicks. Supporters will click in order to validate their viewpoint, while opponents will click just to shake their heads at the latest misrepresentation. But they’ll all click. The more divisive, the better, and in this sense, it’s in the interests of the media to publish more extreme, more argumentative views. Because they want the debate to continue. In doing this, publishers may also, inadvertently, skewing public opinion.

For example, in his post “The Toxoplasma of Rage”, Scott Alexander talked about the differences in coverage of two police killings in the US which highlighted, essentially, the same issue. The first was Eric Garner, a black man who was choked to death by police officers in NYC. The second was Michael Brown, a black man who was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, sparking race riots and race-related angst across the entire nation. Both incidents happened within a month of each other.

In both cases police treatment of black people was brought into question, but the difference between the two was in opinion.

A Pew poll found that of white people who expressed an opinion about the Ferguson case, 73% sided with the officer. Of white people who expressed an opinion about the Eric Garner case, 63% sided with the black victim.”

So while both highlighted the same issue, if you go with the theory of divisiveness fuelling increased social shares, the media coverage is likely to skew more towards the coverage of Ferguson over Eric Garner, even though they both highlight the same issue, right?

A Google News search for Eric Garner returns over 1.9m results:


The same search for Michael Brown? 71.5m – an increase in news coverage of more than 3,700%:


Even taking the other variables into account, like the resulting riots and the more common nature of the name ‘Michael Brown’, that’s a pretty big discrepancy. The Garner case simply didn’t inspire divisive emotion the way the Brown case did – it makes sense that the latter got more coverage as a result. But is that additional coverage driving debate into areas where it actually, in reality, doesn’t exist at the levels those numbers would suggest? And is that then fuelling further division as a result?

Ruffling Feathers

Don’t get me wrong, both the Michael Palmer and the Garner/Brown cases raise important issues that we should be discussing, societal concerns that need to be addressed. But could they also be fuelling negative connotations, or divisiveness, by highlighting elements of focus which distract from the wider topic?

In the case of Walter Palmer, everyone’s on the ‘I hate Walter Palmer’ train. But doesn’t that distract from the bigger issue of the need for action on the hunting of exotic animals? In the case of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the issue sparks accusations of racism and debate which forces people to take sides based, to some degree, on racial lines. But isn’t that, in itself, the definition of racism? Forcing each side to identify as white or black means we’re all focussed on race as a dividing factor, separating us from each other. But shouldn’t the focus be on police brutality of all kinds? That’s the unacceptable element here – the fact that race is involved is an undeniable, and critical element, but as in the case of Eric Garner, everyone agrees that police treating a person this way is unacceptable. In the case of Michael Brown, it was more divisive, forcing a wider debate which is then fuelled by extended coverage. But is that wider debate focussed on the key issue? Or is the resulting coverage inflaming a more adversarial debate in order to generate more attention?

I wouldn’t assume to be informed enough to know the full range of issues at stake, but the question needs to be asked whether the new media process is allocating more air time to divisive debates that may be detrimental to overall societal unity, but beneficial to readership and sales.

The question needs to be asked, are news outlets being incentivized to inform readers of the facts or to make readers click? I’d argue that the latter is far more prominent.

But then, what can you do about it?

The Best Films of 2015 So Far…


It’s been a bit of a lean year for quality cinema. Or at least, I haven’t seen a heap of great things. When I sat down to think about my top films, it was a bit of a struggle – the main couple stood out, but it was hard coming up with even five that I thought were memorable. There were a couple that were okay (‘Inherent Vice’, ‘Kingsmen’) and a few that were really bad (‘Focus’ – so bad), but I had to rack my brain to come up with a good, five deep, list of my top films. Maybe I missed something, maybe I’m not in the loop on some of the good stuff. I don’t know – what I do know is that, of what I’ve seen, these are my top films from the first half of 2015.

  1. Ex Machina

Really, Alex Garland’s ‘Ex Machina’ is so far out in front, it’s not even close. The story of a guy winning a competition to spend time at a brilliant, but eccentric, billionaire’s secluded mansion – which turns into something totally different – is an brilliantly executed story, and one which forces the viewer into the very moral quandaries being faced by the narrator. It reminded me of Denis Villenueve’s ‘Prisoners’ and Gregor Jordan’s ‘Unthinkable’, films that force you to question what you would do in the same situation, how you would respond. It’s smooth, methodical and compelling, keeping you held there till the last. Definitely worth checking out.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

I really don’t understand the fuss about the early Mad Max films. I’d watched them many years ago and not fully understood them, being too young to get the complexities, but they were recently re-run in a late night slot on Australian TV. And I still didn’t get them. They’re overly stylistic, there’s not a heap of story or character development. Yet, people are drawn to George Miller’s post-apocalyptic world. With all that in mind, I wasn’t expecting a heap from Fury Road – and really, there’s not a heap to it, in terms of storytelling complexity. But it’s just so good, it’s so enthralling and crazy and it just keeps coming at you. As a friend noted, it’s basically a two-hour car chase, but the fact that your heart’s still beating fast right through to the end is a pretty big endorsement for how well it’s put together. Just, madness, some of the best examples of modern special effects, tied together with a story that’s basically “we need to get from here to here”. That’s it.

  1. Interstellar

I think Interstellar may have come out last year, but I definitely only caught it in 2015, so I’m counting it. I’d heard and read a bit about the film before I saw it, I’d seen debates about its scientific accuracy and such. I don’t know much about all that, but I do think that the ‘science’, within the world of the story, works well enough to pull it together. Mostly. Either way, it’s a compelling story that really draws you in as it gains momentum – and some of the emotional peaks are very well done. Similar to Nolan’s other big, non-Batman film, Inception, there are things that don’t quite fit, particularly in retrospect, but he certainly knows how to put together an entertaining film.

  1. The Drop

This is a lesser known one, I think, or at least, I haven’t seen many people discussing it. The Drop is about a bar tender who’s involved in organized crime money drops, one of which has gone wrong. Fingers are being pointed, threats are being communicated in non-verbal cues, while the guy at the middle of it all is just a normal guy, trying to get out without any trouble. Kind of. Tom Hardy’s better in this than he is in Mad Max, though similar role, in that he doesn’t say much, plays the quiet type (in fact, that’s him in every movie). Written by Dennis Lehane, the story rolls along at a good pace and develops the main character well. It’s a well done crime drama, above the normal, popcorn cinema type fare.

  1. The Jinx

Due to the aforementioned drought of good films, I’ve actually gone with a TV series in slot five. But in TV terms, The Jinx is certainly one of the most cinematic experiences you’re going to get. The Jinx tells the story of Robert Durst, a billionaire who may or may not have killed his ex-wife. And his housemate. And some other woman, and a former friend and… the list goes on. But he’s not in jail. The documentary series, which runs over six episodes, highlights the power of money over all else, how a rich man can, apparently, get away with pretty much anything. In case after head-shaking case, Durst subverts the law and goes on his way, left to his own, questionable devices, when it’s pretty clear that something’s not right. If it weren’t true, no one would believe it – it’s just too much. But it is, and it’s amazing.

Hopefully the second half of 2015 brings some better stuff our way, but these ones were good, they’ve definitely stuck with me after seeing them. And there is, of course, Star Wars on the horizon, a film which has millions of hardcore fans both stupidly excited and supremely nervous at the same time. I’m pretty sure that, at least, will be great. Probably. Hopefully.

Why Pixar’s ‘Up’ is the Ultimate Testament to the Power of Human Storytelling


This isn’t going to be what you think.

Now, we’ve all seen ‘Up’, right? It’s the Disney/Pixar movie about the old man who loses his wife, then looks set to lose his house, till he launches a million balloons and floats of in that very house on a mission to go on the grand voyage that he and his beloved never got to go on. It’s a great film, everyone likes Up – it’s got an 8.2/10 score on IMDB, putting it at number 113 on the top films of all-time. Up is a story to which most viewers have some level of emotional attachment – that first fifteen minutes is possibly one of the best examples of effective, human, storytelling ever captured on film, and it’s all done with zero dialogue, you just see the events play out. It’s classic cinema, but it’s also the ultimate example of how when we have an emotional anchor tying us to the heart of a story, that all the other details start to matter a lot less.

So, (and stop reading if you’ve never seen Up and don’t want to me to ruin it for you) after that first 15-20 minutes, we’re emotionally tied to the outcome of Up. We want Mr Fredricksen to come out of this okay, because his life story is so relatable and true to life. He’s had to deal with losing the only person he ever loved, the one person he needed, and now he’s tied to the house they had together, the memories he keeps. We, as the audience, want more than anything for Mr. Fredricksen to win after that montage sequence, because that’s what we want for ourselves – it’d be terrible to think there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for him, for us. But then Up takes a turn for the less logical.

Mr. Fredricksen ties about a million balloons to his house and floats it. I can go with that, it links back to his former life selling balloons to kids and his only motivation now is to take his wife on one last adventure in the home they made. But then he finds Russell on his porch. How did Russell end up on his porch? For one, Russell was at his house the previous day, so he must’ve come back the next morning to continue his search for the Snipe – okay, I can go with that. But then he also must’ve seen the guys from the home come to the front door and that didn’t deter him at all. Okay, stretching. Russell then, when the house starts lifting off the ground, must have either jumped onto the porch, or not got off the porch, depending on where he was at, and held on for dear life as it took off. There’s no logical reason for this. But we forgive this element because, well, who cares? The dude’s flying a house levitated by balloons, logic’s already largely been thrown out the window.

But more than that, we don’t care because we’re already emotionally invested in the outcome. We’ve bought into Mr. Fredricksen’s story, and it’ll take a hell of a lot to get us to stop caring about him now – details be damned.

In this sense, Up gets away with a heap of stroyline quirks and plot holes that other films wouldn’t have a chance of overcoming. How is it possible that the adventurer, Charles Muntz, is still alive and still chasing that bird when he was already an old man when Mr. Fredricksen was a boy. This is somewhat explained at the beginning, when they say Paradise Falls is ‘a land lost in time’, but is it, in fact, lost in time? Have they somehow travelled back in time? How was Muntz able to develop technology to translate dogs in an isolated forest? Why isn’t Mr. Fredricksen more amazed about this? Why isn’t Muntz happy to see another human, why isn’t he asking how the hell he gets back – he must have family or something? Why isn’t Muntz more surprised that some old man has flown a house to the falls? Does anyone care about any of this?

No. And that’s the triumph of Up. Up highlights the absolute power of human connection, of finding the human heart of a story, as an effective storytelling practise. If you can find the human heart to a story, you can make it about anything – wars happening in a galaxy far, far away, love stories happening on a doomed cruise liner in the time before it crashes. Human connection, linking with your audience and making your story relatable to them, is more important than virtually any other element. Because we connect through stories, we relate. It’s stories that bind us together and make us feel less alone in the world.

Up is the ultimate example of this. Don’t believe me? Imagine Up without that opening montage, with no context for his relationship, other than him talking to his now absent partner every now and then. And while gaps in logic are always less of an issue in kids films, they’re almost totally irrelevant in Up. Because all we want is for Mr. Fredricksen to get that house onto that clifftop, just like his wife always wanted. That emotional drive is powerful, the heart of the story is what everything else refers back to. If you can find your story’s heart, you’re on the path to building an emotionally resonant, and connective, piece.

Facebook Instant Articles Have Arrived: The End of Publishing as We Know it?


After much speculation, Facebook’s Instant Articles are here. Instant Articles gives publishers the opportunity to post their content direct to Facebook, in a move that some are proclaiming as ‘selling their soul’ to the social giant. The concern, given Facebook’s history of changing the ground rules, is that while the initial offering from Facebook on Instant Articles is good, the other shoe will eventually drop once the process has become embedded and publishers are reliant on the new practice. Like Darth Vader, the expectation is that Facebook will alter the deal, and once it’s become a key part of publishers’ overall strategy, they’ll be left with no choice but to simply pray that Facebook doesn’t alter it any further.

How does it work?

Instant Articles translates publisher content via HTML and RSS into good looking, easy to consume content, available direct on Facebook. There’s also a range of additional publishing options exclusive to the new platform to boost the presentation of content in the News Feed, things like auto-play video and interactive maps, all of which will function smoothly within Facebook’s mobile news feed. It’s worth noting that Instant Articles are only available via the mobile app right now – trying to access the same content on your desktop PC will take you to the normal, mobile web version of the article (though Facebook specifically notes ‘for the moment’ as a qualifier on this).


Instant Article posts load much faster than normal links, which is one of the major pain points Facebook is seeking to resolve with this option. The average mobile load time for an external link from Facebook is around eight seconds. Now, that seems like nothing, right? Eight seconds isn’t long to wait for an article to come up, but on a wider scale, when you consider how many people are using Facebook each day, that time is significant. Facebook has 936 million daily active users, if each of those users opens just one link per session, that eight seconds load time equates to more than two million total hours that people around the world are waiting, each day, for posts to load – time those people could be spending doing other things. Like reading more content on Facebook. From that perspective alone, Facebook’s move has a significant pay-off, even if they maintain the current ad revenue split, which, at present, looks pretty appealing for publishers.

How do publishers make money?

One of the biggest concerns about publishers posting first-run content direct to Facebook was that they’d be surrendering their own audience in favour of Facebook’s. If people no longer need to visit your site to view content, that’s going to result in less traffic, and by extension, less opportunity to monetize your audience. Facebook’s worked to alleviate this by offering publishers the ability to display their own ads within their Instant Articles, with all revenues from any such ads going back to the publishers. Facebook will then fill any unsold ad spots, and will take a 30 per cent cut from any revenues generated by those ads, with the rest going back to the publishers.

Facebook has also worked with comScore to ensure Instant Article views within Facebook’s app will count as traffic for the original publisher, not Facebook. So while publishers are ceding control to The Social Network, they’re getting a pretty good deal on advertising and losing nothing in audience stats. Facebook will also provide performance data on Instant Articles, better enabling publishers to work out what’s resonating best with their Facebook audience and make improvements.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right? And considering many publishers are already significantly reliant on Facebook referral traffic anyway, partnering with the network via Instant Articles makes sense, as it’s likely (despite Facebook saying this is not the case) that Facebook’s algorithm will give preferential treatment to Instant Articles over other posting options. Though that, too, is where publishers hesitate in shaking Facebook’s outstretched hand and look down at the feet to see if their standing on the trap door.


What’s The Issue with Instant Articles?

The problem with Facebook’s new option is not what Instant Articles are now, but what they may become. Major players posting direct to Facebook is a fundamental shift in the publishing process. While, right now, the deal looks good, and it seems as though Facebook has done a lot of negotiating with their launch partners to ensure the deal beneficial for all, as with the many changes to the News Feed algorithm, Facebook has the right to change the game whenever it sees fit.

If publishers don’t sign up to Instant Articles, will that see eventually their content de-emphasised by the algorithm, making it harder to reach potential audience on the platform? If Instant Articles are given preferential placement in the News Feed, will that further reduce the reach of all other content as there’ll be less News Feed real estate remaining as a result? If Instant Articles are a big hit, and publishers become reliant on that as a new source of revenue, will Facebook re-configure the advertising split, leaving publishers with no choice but to take the hit and give over more money to the social giant?

Obviously, there’s no way of knowing how it will play out, but it’s generally agreed that building a reliance on ‘rented land’, in social networks or any other platform of which you don’t control the back-end, isn’t sustainable practice in the long-term. But maybe Facebook is, as they say, only seeking to improve user experience. Maybe eliminating that load time results in more people spending more time visiting other areas of Facebook or direct posted articles further enhance Facebook’s status as a key source of information, increasing time spent on platform, and thus, opportunities for Facebook to serve ads, and that, in itself, is enough reason for Facebook to maintain the system as is. It seems unlikely, in the long term. The initial deal being offered seems a little too good to be what it will in its final configuration. But it sure is appealing. You can imagine many publishers would be willing to sign-up to get better reach to Facebook’s 1.4 billion users.

Instant Articles is definitely an interesting development, and one everyone in the content, media and publishing space will want to keep a close eye on.

The Latest Development in the Social Search Battle – Facebook Adds In-App Content Search


The new battleground of combined social and search is going to become a significant storyline in the world of social media marketing this year. Last week, we saw the first examples of what tweets might look like in Google search results as part of Twitter’s new deal with the search giant. It’s now being reported that Facebook is testing a newsearch feature – not quite on the same path, but more significant than it may, initially, seem.

Linking Up

Facebook is testing out a new functionality for iOS users which enables people to search for links while composing a status update, in-app. Just like adding a picture, the function would enable users to click on a link icon, then do a keyword search for articles related to that topic in order to share that content with your update.


At a glance, this seems relatively minor, adding in links is no major upgrade, it’s just streamlining that process – and really, it may be slightly restrictive, most people like to be able to share the exact links to the exact posts they want, and searching via this method might not necessarily help you locate the right content any more efficiently than searching outside of the app and cutting and pasting the link yourself. But then again, it might. And considering the massive amount of mobile sharing Facebook hosts, this process could prove hugely popular, effectively cutting Google out of the equation and keeping users on Facebook longer. And what’s more, it would also grant Facebook more control over more information, in the form of search data, which it could use to entice more publishers to its publisher platform. And that might just be the start.

Mo’ Data, Mo’ Options

So, let’s say this becomes a popular practice, that people are finding the links they want via this search process, Facebook learns your favourite websites and can better provide contextual searches, based on your previous sharing behaviour. That being the case, couldn’t Facebook then use that in building its case for publishers to post first-run content direct to Facebook? What if, as part of their pitch, they could say that “people use this new in-app search functionality 35% of the time, and we control the search results they get – we could ensure your content appears high in those results, significantly increasing the chances that users will link to your posts, thereby increasing your overall audience.” That’s interesting, right? What, too, does that increase in searches on Facebook do for Google traffic and Google’s share of audience? We know that Facebook leads social referral traffic by a significant margin (and that’s not even counting dark social shares) – if this addition were to catch on, it could be a significant concern for The Big G’s hold on search traffic.

Obviously, these are extrapolations, we have no idea how this is going to go till we see it in the wild and we get some stats on how users view this addition. But it could be something. It could be more significant than it may seem, at this early stage.

As noted by Josh Considine in his TechCrunch post – “the garden’s walls grow ever taller”.