Content over companionship: Facebook shifts further from social with its new Save feature

Back in the not-so-distant past, Facebook (s FB) was the place users turned for updates on friends and family. Quick social hits: Photo albums and statuses, relationship indicators and location.

But in recent years, with Twitter nipping at its heels, Facebook began funneling its energy into content sharing. It shifted its algorithms so article links were more likely to surface on the newsfeed than, say, first-birthday photos. It started to look more like a media platform than a social networking app.

Monday’s news — that Facebook has introduced a new “Save” bookmarking feature – furthers that trend.

The Save tool gives users an easy way to flag links, music, videos, group or event pages they encounter on their news feed and don’t have time to peruse. They can return to them later. It’s optimized for both Android and iOS and is also available on desktop. Users access it by clicking the top right arrow on a post. Then, when they have a little extra time and want to consume the content they saved, they can find it all under their “save” bookmark on the left sidebar on desktop and by clicking the “more” button on mobile.

Screenshots courtesy of Facebook
Screenshots courtesy of Facebook

In theory, the Save tool makes sense for taming an overwhelming newsfeed. In reality, though, the Save tool is further dilution of the Facebook value add. As the feature currently stands, it won’t let you save your friends’ statuses or photo albums. The only content you can revisit is that of Facebook groups or external articles, music and videos. In other words, Facebook’s Save feature is only for saving media, not for saving social activity.

These days, Facebook is just barely the place where you go to catch up on your network. Its shift into content opened up space for competitors like Snapchat and Secret to fill the need for socializing. And every step Facebook takes forward further solidifies one simple fact: It doesn’t care about your socializing. It cares about your content consumption.

It may be a smart business strategy, albeit infuriating to some of Facebook’s earliest adopters. Content consumption is far easier to monetize with integrated ads than those first-birthday pictures.

At the same time, though, by emphasizing content to the detriment of social, Facebook risks eroding the reason people use it. I find the app to be far less addictive and appealing when I’m hounded by Buzzfeed article after article instead of the latest news on my friends. When I need my social hit, I’ve stopped trusting Facebook and started turning to its smaller competitors.

Some might argue that Facebook is taking on content saving platforms like Pocket and Instapaper with its new Save feature, but that’s a stretch. After all, Facebook won’t let users save or access content outside the application itself, whereas Instapaper and Pocket clips links from all over the web. “Save” is more like Facebook’s half-hearted effort to stoke the content consumption of the users who like that that the app is their media feed instead of their friendship feed.

Facebook is playing a dangerous game as it evolves into a bigger public company, competing against the likes of Twitter(s TWTR), Pinterest and Yelp. It’s growing its offerings at the risk of alienating its user base.

Feature image by Robert Churchill/Thinkstock