Facebook and Google Are Literally Breaking the News

Journalism has historically been a rather staid industry, producing and distributing news items for centuries, largely without significant prescient innovation. Heaps of startups have emerged out of the tech boom to disrupt and transform the way news is delivered and consumed.

Traditional publications are being shoved out while the number of digitally-oriented media companies have emerged and taken root in the space. On top of all this change, massive platform companies like Google and Facebook are steadily pressing more of the industry under their thumbs.

The business of journalism has largely devolved to a race for attracting more eyeballs and attention to garner advertising dollars, which has led to some cataclysmic moves over the past decade.

As journalistic endeavors pivoted toward attracting traffic by any means necessary, they functionally sold their souls to Facebook and Google algorithms in order to capture more page views. Since readers spend the bulk of their online time on platforms instead of visiting news sites organically, the focus for content is less on quality and more on virality and shareability.

As such, Facebook and Google are taking aggressive action to own more and more of the value chain, moving upstream with new features for discovering and consuming news content.

Facebook Fills in the Gap

Two of Facebook’s subsidiary social platforms, Instagram and WhatsApp, lure hundreds of millions of people to use their Stories features on a daily basis. Messenger also has an identical feature called Messenger Day, but it’s unclear how many of the 1.2 billion users also use the feature.

Given that, what use is Facebook Stories?

Put simply, Stories will fill in the gap that Whatsapp, Messenger, and Instagram can’t cover: the news.

Instagram’s core purpose is sharing images and photos and it has never allowed links to take users outside of Instagram Stories. WhatsApp is a messaging platform, which restricts the scope of Stories content to the context of those social connections.

Through the News Feed, Instant Articles, and Trending, Facebook has become the largest hub for consuming and sharing content. It only makes sense to use Stories as another means to serving those same functions.

The writing on the wall strongly suggests that’s the purpose of Stories. Approved “public figures” are able to share Stories publicly, not just friends, and the feature is moving it to desktop in the near future.

What makes Stories such a great feature for sharing news content is that it involves video and shirks the dreaded walls of text while the brevity and format preclude the need for sound or skipping around to get to the good parts.

Stories would give content creators and publishers a new format and opportunity, but it would

Facebook’s decision to capitalize on its Stories feature is not going to eliminate traditional content creators, but will strip away a lot of their control since users will not leave Facebook to consume the content, reducing the creators’ ability to collect their own data and ad revenue.

And don’t forget those algorithms. Facebook can further cater to its users with content it finds most engaging for each and every one of its 2 billion members, which further reduces the power of the creators and publishers.

Google Wants to Leave a Mark with ‘Stamp’

Facebook isn’t alone in its efforts to remake the news world in its own image. Google is debuting a new feature called Stamp, which combines the Stories approach with Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP).

AMP is an open source project launched by Google in 2015 and meant to foster mobile pages that load really fast, essentially a stripped-down version of HTML.

Stamp will allow news outlets to post slideshows of text, photos and videos that can both appear in search results and be hosted on a publisher’s website. Since Google never successfully built its own social platform, it’s wrapping Stories-like features directly into its search offerings – Google’s specialty.

It’s funny to see Google moving into something resembling Stories considering it wasn’t able to snag the originator of the format. Google offered to acquire Snap twice in the past year or so for $30 billion, but was rebuffed at both turns.

Instead, Google is building out the feature of its own accord and Snap has been flagging near-daily since its IPO in March, with a stock price currently lower than half of its peak price.

Through Stamp, Google can keep users on its search platform and better monetize through the ads it would fully control.

Polish Your Resumes, Storyboarders

It’s dizzying how two companies rolling out new features can so dramatically upend the whole journalism space, but that’s the power of the platform business model at scale.

Soon, media companies will hire fewer writers and more visual storytellers, folks with experience in making storyboards and graphical content. Additionally, they’ll start scrambling for new revenue streams since Stories and Stamp will probably accrue gains for Facebook and Google at least somewhat at the media companies’ expense.

The tides of change are never too kind when it comes to transforming industries. There’s typically a lot of disruption and some measure of financial pain associated. Publishers did not innovate on the distribution of their content for many years, leaving the door wide open for Facebook and Google to dominate.

It’s a classic tale that played and is playing out in several other industries. At this stage, divesting from media companies seems like a good idea, as does investing in platform businesses.

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