Facebook wants its users to forget they ever heard of Medium or Tumblr.
The company is testing a new interface for its previously-neglected Notes tool, which now bears a better-than-passing resemblance to Medium’s platform. But the real question is whether or not Facebook users want to start blogging at all on the service.
Facebook is effectively building a separate home for users’ longer — and presumably more thoughtful — content. Is it really feeling that much pressure from teenagers’ newfound love for the “blogging” of old, as Wired claims?
Probably not. It seems more likely that the revamped Notes stems from Facebook’s belief that it should at least attempt to Xerox every social media platform that Internet users pay even a little bit of attention to. This seems like a smart move, but resuscitating an all-but-abandoned tool reeks of desperation.
Facebook developed Rooms to rip off Reddit, built a business-focused service meant to supplant workplace communications tools like Slack, and is now reportedly working on a new service meant to tempt people away from Twitter — or simply stop its current users from visiting Twitter all together.
“Facebook knows people are already spending lots of time using Facebook, but a lot of the content (and a lot of the associated advertising opportunities) is still hosted elsewhere,” said Jackdaw Research’s Jan Dawson told Gigaom.
“So Facebook wants to bring more of [that content] within the confines of Facebook itself, both as a user retention strategy and as a monetization strategy,” he added.
Then the question becomes whether or not many of Tumblr’s and Medium’s users will turn to Facebook. I doubt many will for one simple reason: anything they write will be limited to Facebook’s network.
Medium is nice because it’s mostly devoted to long-ish blog posts. Many of its users think about what they’re writing, and anyone visiting the site is probably doing so because they want to read something worthwhile. Compare that to Facebook, where people are sharing images or half-considered notions about news they haven’t bothered to learn about beyond the headline. Where would you rather write?
Also, there’s the fact that Medium didn’t immediately open to the public. It allowed few writers onto the platform, acquired or started various publications, and otherwise worked to curate the experience first-time visitors would have. Facebook is doing that to an extent by limiting the new Notes’ rollout, but once a billion people join a service, it’s a little too late to show only the best content.
Then there’s Tumblr. That’s a creative space where people can write, share, and discuss anything they want without fear of judgment from friends or family. Users don’t have to share their real names, and they can present themselves however they want. Facebook’s network is built on the opposite principles.
So on the one hand there are writers who want their work to be appreciated instead of it disappearing into a mass of baby pictures, political ads, and the other conversational bile shared to Facebook each day. On the other there are writers who don’t want to expose their every activity to their social network.
Facebook caters to neither category. Besides, there isn’t much reason for Facebook users to write Notes instead of status updates. Facebook’s default unit of sharing has a 60,000 word character limit; I suspect many of the site’s users never come close to reaching that cap. Why bother writing in one section of Facebook’s site when it’s just as easy to write in another?
However, there’s also a good chance Facebook has another motivation, too: its desire to provide increasing amounts of content to its users.
The company has convinced publishers to post stories via Instant Articles instead of to their own websites, gotten many users to host videos via its service instead of merely linking to YouTube videos, and is now attempting to give indie writers the ability to post to Facebook instead of Medium or Tumblr. If it works, Facebook will look like a genius for being able to monetize user-generated written content better than most — and for doing it (presumably) without cutting those authors in on the revenue.
I suspect that potential genius will never be realized. Maybe some people will want to post something besides a status update, but it seems unlikely that there will be enough to pose a real threat to Tumblr or Medium. Another week, another Facebook copycat that seems destined to descend into mediocrity.