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May 2, 2014, 11:06 a.m.
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This Week in Review: The FCC defends its plan, and Facebook’s (sort of) privacy concession

Plus: Questions about Twitter’s growth, inside the White House press corps, and the rest of the week’s news in journalism and tech.

This week’s essential reads: If you’re in a hurry, read Bill Keller and Marcus Brauchli’s interview with Politico on the state of the news industry, Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer on Twitter’s decline as a network, and Cindy Royal telling her fellow journalism professors that they work in tech now.

Defending the new Internet regulations: After last week’s backlash to his proposal to overhaul the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality regulations, chairman Tom Wheeler wrote a blog post reassuring open web advocates that the new rules would outlaw anything that slows existing service or harms competition or free speech. He also said he’s willing to regulate the Internet as a utility, if necessary, to protect its openness. TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm explained Wheeler’s post well.

In a speech to the cable industry, Wheeler also said he’d preempt state laws banning municipal broadband in order to encourage more local competition. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick was skeptical of Wheeler’s willingness to follow through on the statement, but called it “a very good place to start.” Meanwhile, former FCC chairman Michael Powell, who is now head of the cable industry’s top lobbying organization, made the argument against treating the Internet as a public utility, saying that it’s grown so well over the past decade because it’s not dependent on political processes and public funding for its maintenance.

Arguments against the proposal continued to trickle in from observers like Cory Doctorow, who argued at The Guardian that innovation will be stifled by an unnecessary shakedown of users and content providers by Internet service providers. Under these rules, if you want to disrupt an established web-based industry, Doctorow said, “you have to start out with a bribery warchest that beats out the firms that clawed their way to the top back when there was a fairer playing-field.”

The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal and Adrienne LaFrance went into the history of the concept of net neutrality, and Vox’s Nilay Patel explained the politics behind the FCC’s proposal. The New York Times’ David Carr saw the new proposal as one of several strands threatening to unravel the long-dominant cable TV bundle, and Sports on Earth’s Will Leitch argued that if that bundle unravels, sports TV and leagues may be hit the worst. Meanwhile, Netflix reached a paid agreement to speed up its streaming on Verizon’s network similar to the one it signed with Comcast earlier this spring, and Time reported that there are 76 lobbyists working to push through the Comcast–Time Warner Cable merger that’s before federal regulators.

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Facebook’s new logins, mobile ads, and app linking: Facebook announced a raft of features and changes this week at its f8 conference, led by new login formats that allow people to select what information they share with Facebook as they sign in to other apps through Facebook — or to be anonymous to the other app (though not to Facebook). The New York Times’ Vindu Goel wrote a good explanation of what the new login functions entail — Facebook is hoping more people will be persuaded to log in to outside sites and apps through Facebook.

PandoDaily’s Nathaniel Mott said that although Facebook is still keeping its users’ data when they’re logged in through Facebook elsewhere, these changes show signs that they’re understanding their users’ privacy concerns better. TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington said Facebook is finally “getting it” regarding privacy, unlike Google, though Forbes’ Kashmir Hill emphasized that even under Anonymous Login, Facebook’s users are still sending their data to Facebook. “‘Anonymity’ is the gateway drug to greater disclosure. Once the connection is made, it’s expected you’ll take the cloak off and share some info,” Hill wrote.

Facebook also unveiled a mobile ad network called the Facebook Audience Network that allows other mobile apps to run targeted ads based on Facebook data. Forbes’ Robert Hof detailed the network a bit further and explained why advertisers are excited to use it.

Facebook also introduced several tools for developers, the most significant of which was App Links, a service that will allow app-to-app links. Business Insider’s Steve Kovach explained why developers love this idea — it has the potential to organize the information among apps, just as Google organizes it on the web — and why Facebook loves it, too: “Facebook could essentially have insight into all the apps and content on your phone, not just the ones it makes.”

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg gave a lengthy interview to Wired’s Steven Levy explaining his company’s changes and its shift toward utilities for developers (more on these in a bit), describing as Facebook “growing up” but insisting that the company isn’t reaching middle age. Valleywag’s Sam Biddle disagreed, saying that Facebook’s becoming more stable, reliable, and boring — “just a very large utility, an inevitable fate for anything giant and technical.”

Twitter IPO

Has Twitter plateaued?: Twitter made its own announcements this week, though they weren’t as well received as Facebook’s. The company released its quarterly results, revealing what would seem to be a mixed set of results: 5% quarterly growth in active users, up to 255 million; 119% revenue growth over this time last year; another net loss; and slightly decreasing ad revenue per timeline view. As The Wall Street Journal reported, its stock dropped 10% and hit a new low on the news.

The New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth laid out the problem between Twitter and Wall Street: Twitter’s user base and engagement are increasing, but not fast enough for its investors. It’s sold itself as a way to keep users more glued to live TV, but TV executives may be getting skeptical of its actual impact. Alex Weprin of Capital New York went deeper into Twitter’s relationship with the TV industry.

The greater fear among investors is that not only has Twitter not reached the mainstream for consumers as Facebook has, but it may never get there, as Valleywag’s Sam Biddle and Quartz’s John McDuling suggested. As Forbes’ Robert Hof reported, Twitter is arguing that it already has gone mainstream but simply needs to increase users’ engagement and improve their experience. Hof also argued that investors and critics shouldn’t expect Twitter to become another Facebook, because it wasn’t intended to be.

At The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer made the case for Twitter’s decline from the user’s perspective, arguing that the site isn’t as vibrant as it used to be, and the premise that its users could converse with and be heard by fascinating new networks of people is being stripped away. “Twitter feels closed off, choked, in a way that makes us want to explore somewhere else for a while,” they wrote. Google Ventures partner MG Siegler countered that Twitter is constantly being declared “over,” but it’s still well within the mainstream of pop culture and the news media, and Slate’s Will Oremus argued that Twitter is growing as a media platform and that its better comparison is YouTube rather than Facebook.

Reading roundup: A few additional pieces to read from this week:

— A few pieces on the frustrating experience of covering the White House: Politico polled the White House Correspondent’s Association on the ins and outs of their job and their opinions of the administration they cover, and The Washington Post profiled a White House reporter as a glimpse into their lack of access. Yahoo News wrote about the Obama administration employee who tracks reporters’ tweets and flags them to other administration officials.

— The Columbia Journalism Review’s Alexis Sobel Fitts profiled Upworthy, examining the roots of its click-friendly advocacy and its approach to creating shareable content.

— Finally, three thoughtful pieces to take a look at over the weekend: Journalism professor Cindy Royal on rethinking the skills journalism schools teach students, former newspaper editor John L. Robinson on chasing traffic vs. building community at news websites, and former New York Times editor Bill Keller and former Washington Post editor Marcus Brauchli talking with Politico about the state of the news industry.

Photos of 2010 net neutrality protest by Steve Rhodes and Mark Zuckerberg at F8 by Mike Deerkoski used under a Creative Commons license. Photo of the New York Stock Exchange before Twitter’s IPO by AP/Kathy Willens.

POSTED     May 2, 2014, 11:06 a.m.
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