“The future is private.” This sentence always seems to bounce around during the annual F8 conference; this year, the two-day event took place on April 30th and May 1st at the McEnery Convention Center in San José, California. The conference originally began as an 8-hour hackathon, which was brought to life by Zuckerberg and the Facebook corporation. Over the years, the annual event has become a platform for announcements regarding the social network Facebook itself, and its sister companies Instagram and WhatsApp.
This year’s innovations are oriented around the motto “the future is private”: in the future, says Zuckerberg, social networks will become reflections of our human everyday realities. The Facebook of tomorrow can be best imagined as two separate “rooms” or spaces next to each other: a public room and a private room. Privacy means, first and foremost, data security – this is the reason for the increased emphasis and work on end-to-end encryption, and is also the reason for the drastic reduction in the volume of saved data.
But how can one actually imagine these “rooms” within the digital world? You can’t, after all, just build a wall on the internet or put up a fence. While this is indeed true, it’s already possible in some ways to create and separate an “inside” from an “outside” on Facebook. This is largely done through groups—and it’s exactly this which has brought Facebook’s latest update, given the sonorous name of FB5, into the spotlight.
Directly on one’s main page, a user will be given a compact overview of his or her current groups. Furthermore, the main page will feature user-specific recommendations as to which groups one might like to join.
In addition, new types of groups – which will come with additional features—will be implemented: “Job Groups” will allow individuals to search for jobs via Facebook; “Buy & Sell” groups include features which will allow digital payment; and then there are, of course, “Health Groups,” “Gaming Groups” and “Local Event Groups.”
Those who are looking to make new friends or acquaintances won’t be disappointed with the app upgrades. In South America, Facebook has already tested its own dating app; in the said app, a Facebook user also now has an additional function available which is for finding new friends or “secret crushes.” When a person has feelings for one of his or her Facebook friends, he or she can mark this person as a “secret crush.” Should the other person feel the same way and also designate a said friend as being one of his or her “secret crushes,” Facebook will send the lovers a short message to connect them.
When it comes to Instagram, the differentiation between “inside” and “outside” will be less pronounced that it will be with Facebook. Since frequently-read posts from established users with many followers are known to have a higher reach, they’re often taken more seriously than the content of the same quality with less significant reach. This sometimes makes it hard for newcomers to get a foot in the door when joining Instagram.
New functions, which are currently being tested in Canada, allow the possibility of hiding likes; furthermore, in the test version, one’s Follower Count is much less prominently displayed. These changes are intended to shift focus instead to content, rather than pure virality. A user with a low number of followers, therefore, will be able to gain points for publishing stronger content.
Instagram Shopping, which was introduced last year, allows influencers to link directly to their products in their posts. For a follower who is interested in buying a product, therefore, he or she no longer has to leave the platform: the buying and payment process takes places completely within the Instagram App. Instagram is currently testing this feature with selected influencers.
WhatsApp & Messenger
For WhatsApp, innovations are planned which encourage and strengthen the usage of messenger services in a more public space (as opposed to purely private or personal use.)
Because WhatsApp is so simple and user-friendly, many businesses use the messenger service to carry out their business communications. The Facebook Group has decided to make moves towards embracing this behavior and thus wants to make it possible for WhatsApp users to complement their personal accounts with a business profile.
To understand future developments and functionalities, one can look to Asia. In China and India, social networks such as WeChat, which include digital payment functions, are turning out to be a real source of competition for traditional payment processes such as cash payments. The Facebook Group could possibly be considering something similar for WhatsApp.
Finally, Facebook Messenger itself is intended to become the “living room” of digital communication. This will be developed through a new tab in the Messenger App which will show cross-platform content from close friends and acquaintances. With this tab, a user can see all of the activity from his or her most closely followed people from Facebook and Instagram all in one place.
What do these changes mean for users of social listening tools?
Overall, the announcements at this year’s F8 conference build on the current trend that places an emphasis on privacy and data protection. Scandals such as the illegal acquisition of data by the data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica – data which was used to determine voter behavior during the 2016 US presidential election – have led to social media users becoming more cautious about publishing their private data. Formerly lax internet laws have also changed: since 2018, the processing of personal data by private companies in the EU is now governed by the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Many major changes were already implemented last year. In response, Facebook has reduced its number of external developers and has significantly restricted access to its official interfaces, which provide various data from the social network itself.
Facebook is now taking the next steps in that direction. In creating private spaces, current public spaces will consequently become smaller. For Social listening and related use cases, which are based on the processing of user data, current developments will have various consequences. The trend seen in recent years will continue: the amount of freely accessible data will continue to decrease.
At first glance, it appears that communications departments will be facing new challenges. However, in the long run, users of monitoring and listening tools should look forward to the development on Facebook’s side – if users’ trust in social networks continues to sink, they’ll publish less new content.