At an event in Johannesburg, we got to grips with what Facebook are calling The Future of Social Networking

The energetic speakers from the Facebook team bedazzled us with promises of what the facebutopian future holds.  They bristled with confidence as they told us that “œYes“, they have changed the world before and “œYes“, they are about to do so again.  Only this time, we are invited to be a part of it.  All of this happened at the Facebook News Media Day, on 13 July, at the Longpoint Building in Johannesburg.
At this event, we (the various media partners) had the opportunity to meet some of the members of the Facebook Media Partnership team, and learn more about Instant Articles, 360 Video, Instagram and other key issues and trends in the industry.  The workshop held in the On Pointe office was done as a series of informal presentations by the Facebook team interspaced with Q&A sessions.
Facebook‘s mission statement is “œTo give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.“  Having attended the Facebook News Media Day, I would summarize the event as an attempt at “œGiving the media and publishing partners the power to share and make the world more open and connected via Facebook“, a.k.a. the future of social networkingThe attempt, I must add, was very successful.  We were wowed with graphs and data and video, digitized testaments of Facebook‘s ever-growing success.  Then, we were presented with glimpses of the new technologies powering Facebook’s next evolution and brief instruction on how to use them.  All seamless and looking very easy.
This is because Facebook has near perfected the art of usability.  It is part of their core business to keep people logged into their Facebook accounts for as long as possible.  So even when visiting other sites, Facebook is usually just a click away.  And this is why Facebook partners with content creators such as publishers and press – in order to grow relevance to the personal user experience by creating an accessible platform for great content.
My summary (and artistic representation):
They (Facebook) provide the Sandbox. We (the creators of content) are invited to play in it and create forts and sand art and play with little green army men.  This activity piques the interest of the other kids (people) in the playground and one by one they drop their skipping ropes and start to ignore the rusty ageing jungle gyms and wander over to the sandbox which is brimming with activity.  Until finally all the kids in the playground are in the Sandbox.
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The presentations and Q&A sessions were very informative about the shiny new toys that Facebook has added to the Sandbox.  The first of these new Toys unveiled for publishers was the various tweaks, formats and performance enhancements made to Facebook Video.  The Facebook presenters were unanimous in their conviction that Video is the new medium for digital storytelling (Video killed the Radio Star“¦and apparently now the printing press as well).  Facebook‘s ever hungry expansion is aimed at creating more immersive user experiences via content and medium.  Their progression started out with text, moved on to photographs and images, grew into videos and is already aimed at the future by experimenting with even more immersive mediums such as VR.  For the publishers and creators of content, Facebook Video has incorporated new tools and protocols for bringing conversations to life.
We were giving some information on utilizing The Live Video publishing tool on Pages and understanding new mediums such as 360 Video, Virtual Reality and Augment reality.
We were informed on Facebook‘s Live API feature (Application Programming Interface is an Interface which allows the user to access information from another service and allows them to integrate this service into their own application) and its utilization during the Brexit campaign.  The power of pulling reactions in real time and broadcasting them live and also measuring the impact on the audience by these pulled comments and questions, opens up new forms of participatory news and events coverage.
Then we were primed for the use of the Facebook Instant Articles.  The conception of Instant Articles was grounded in the belief that the mobile web is broken.  With the ever increasing migration to mobile web, Facebook has attempted to start rectifying the faulty under wiring and underutilization of the mobile web with Instant Articles.  The problem for macro businesses such as Facebook who specialize at creating immersive experiences, is the fragmentation and clumsy interface of the mobile web.  This makes it harder to maximize and monetize the content.  Think about it this way:  The average screen size of distributed smart phones varies between 4 to 5.6 inches (whilst disregarding the screen size of feature phones and older basic mobile phones).  There is only so much content that can be portrayed on a single screenshot.  Add to that the fact that most mobile users would be browsing without using sound and as master Yoda might say “œa very immersive experience, this does not make“.  Making the mobile space much less effective for leasing out digital advertising space (which is Facebook‘s actual core business).
So even though the mobile web has good quality content and solid platforms such as Facebook, the actual experience of engaging with that content is not effective and cannot generate revenue to good effect.  Enter the Instant Articles initiative.  We were shown some content generated on this new platform, it was fantastic.  From instant loading to the seamless integration of media and print, done via an aesthetically impressive layout.  It was engaging, interesting and very immersive.  Barring the unforeseen, I am willing to declare that Instant Articles is the future for publishing.  And, by virtue, a great new platform to monetize digital content.
The last chapter of the Facebook News Media Day, which shall henceforth be known as The Future of Social Networking day, was devoted to explaining the intricacies of monetizing digital content.  Basically Facebook is offering a kind of symbiotic relationship whereby publishers can utilize their massive platforms, infrastructure and tools to create great content.  The public interest and internet traffic created by the distribution of the content is then used to create digital marketing real estate sold off to the millions of companies and agencies that form part of the Facebook business network.  Products are advertised, sold off and everyone gets a cut.  In the words of Don Corleone to Johnny Fontane in The Godfather, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”  And in essence, that is what Facebook has done.  They have created a fantastic platform for creating and publishing digital content, they have freely shared the tools and apps and programs to populate the mobile web, they have divulged the secrets to generating revenue from digital content and we are all free to partake“¦so long as it is done via Facebook.   Indeed, the Don of the digital has made us an offer not to be refused.
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And so, for good or evil, I will acquiesce to a future where every aspect of our lives are interconnected, digitized and sold off to the highest bidder. Why? Well because it is the future, and it is boundless, and it is immersive, and it looks mindbogglingly cool.  Thank you Facebook for this insightful event and for your energetic and accomplished team of presenters.
Are you curious about the future of social networking?  Do you believe in an interconnected, beneficent conglomerate or are you scared that the Terminators are taking over?  Let us know your thoughts.
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*Picture from emergentbydesign.com