The Awl’s John Herrman is our depressive Virgil, guiding us share-button-by-share-button through the circles of modern online publishing hell. He writes regularly about the economics and semiotics of putting information on the web, the sort of pieces that make you drink.
You should read his latest piece, which riffs off of Facebook’s statement yesterday about the growth of Facebook-native video. A few shifts in the News Feed has made video uploaded directly to Facebook significantly more engaging than embedded videos from, say, YouTube:
This post is titled “What the Shift to Video Means for Creators” but describes no such thing. What the shift to Facebook video means is that Facebook is more interested in hosting the things media companies make than just spreading them, that it views links to outside pages as a problem to be solved, and that it sees Facebook-hosted video as an example of the solution. A company that uploads its videos to Facebook is not the publisher of those videos. At best, it produced them.
This is where the theoretical tension between Facebook, which has been lavishing websites with traffic in return for their ability to fill its News Feeds with interesting links, and publishers, which have either accepted or pursued the audience that Facebook occasionally shares with them, becomes material. Embedded videos didn’t used to play on Facebook — you had to leave the page to visit the site that published (or embedded) them in the first place. Next, embedded YouTube videos were allowed entrance, proved popular, and made the old style of video-watching seem strange and inefficient, while still depending on, and benefiting, an outside publisher (Google, with its partners). When Facebook privileged its own videos to auto-play, it made embedded videos feel out-of-place. Facebook-native videos, which display their view counts inside the frame, are often shockingly popular, even by YouTube standards. This is the last stage in a gradual correction.
“What the Shift to Video Means,” then, is that one major type of media is being pulled in-house by Facebook; it means that Facebook is not satisfied merely facilitating the spread of other publishers’ products. It’s not that such an arrangement is unprofitable—Facebook has made a great deal of money selling ads against links to media originally published elsewhere—it’s that the new vision, in which Facebook is not just theoretically but practically constitutes the entire internet, is potentially more profitable. Publishers, in Facebook’s view, are middlemen…
“What the Shift to Video Means,” theoretically, is that much of the benefit publishers have derived from Facebook over the last three years, which required only occasional and modest adherence to Facebook’s explicit and implicit guidance, will disappear for organizations that are not interested in ceasing to be publishers to become “creators,” or in replicating their operations on another company’s platform just because it’s the momentarily dominant channel on hundreds of millions of new machines with poorly understood potential.
“What the Shift to Video Means,” finally, is that the grand Facebook anomaly that incidentally inflated thousands of websites, some so profoundly as to distort their entire businesses and missions, may be coming to an end.
Maybe Facebook is the new AOL after all — though AOL was eaten from the outside in, and Facebook is trying to eat the web from the inside out.