Facebook’s new changes, and its goals for the future

Marketplace Staff Sep 23, 2011

Facebook’s new changes, and its goals for the future

Marketplace Staff Sep 23, 2011

Bob Moon: Perhaps you’ve heard of Facebook? The social network’s 800 million users are in for a sweeping redesign of their personal web pages. The changes were unveiled at Facebook’s annual developers conference in San Francisco yesterday and will roll out to members in the coming weeks. A new profile page called Timeline will archive everything you ever share on Facebook — forever. And expect more additions you didn’t know you needed.

Our own Steve Henn got a sneak peek and joins us now. Hey, Steve.

Steve Henn: Hey.

Moon: So is this going to make this online powerhouse even more powerful? What do you think?

Henn: Well, you know, I think it could. From a design perspective, the reviews of Facebook’s new feature Timeline have been pretty positive. Timeline re-imagines how a Facebook profile works and it makes it possible to scan through years of your life in sort of a visually beautiful way. It stores and archives all your posts and photos and then tries to automatically highlight things that were important to you.

Moon: Now this is just one part of what Facebook was up to, though, right?

Henn: That’s right. It also unveiled a series of new apps to allow you to surf digital media and share what you’re doing online, almost automatically. So from what movies you’re watching and what music you’re listening to; even things like what you’re cooking. Facebook wants to capture all of that and make it incredibly simple to post it and share it.

Moon: OK, maybe I’m a geezer because when it comes to what my friends are watching on Hulu, “Frankly, My Dear” and you know the rest. But I know it’s aimed at the age group that’s the big prize — I take it younger online users just eat this stuff up.

Henn: Well, sure, younger online users are more willing to share stuff than maybe you or I are. But Facebook was also pretty sensitive to try to design something that wasn’t going to annoy your friends. So all of those kinds of automatic posts will fly by in this new ticker that is on the Facebook page on the right, and they’ll be archived on your timeline. But what Facebook’s really trying to do here is build a better kind of recommendation engine. So if you and a couple of my other friends all like “Mad Men,” it might actually pull that out and highlight it for me.

Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, spoke at the event yesterday, and he said when Mark Zuckerberg first approached him about these ideas, he was skeptical. So he asked him:

Reed Hastings: ‘What is success for you in this interaction, Mark?’ And he said, ‘How big do you think you’re going to grow next year?’ And I said, ‘X.’ And he said, ‘Success for Facebook is if Netflix rose to 2X.’

So what Zuckerberg thinks — and now what Hastings, I think, believes — is that by integrating digital media like Netflix or Hulu into this shared Facebook experience, it’s going to change how the Internet works and transform how millions of people buy things and discover things online.

Moon: OK, let it be known I had oatmeal this morning and I’m watching “Rango” tonight. Sounds like the marketers still don’t have enough personal data — now they want every mundane detail about our lives?

Henn: Yep, that’s pretty much it.

Moon: So how big is the impact going to be on media businesses?

Henn: Well, you know, I think it could be enormous. You remember, Netflix announced earlier this week that it was splitting itself in two. And I’m actually convinced that decision has a lot to do with what Facebook is doing right now.

Moon: Whoa, we’re almost out of time, you throw me that intriguing tidbit. So explain this to me, Qwikster: Why would wanting a Facebook presence cause this big split for Netflix?

Henn: Well, because Netflix rents DVDs. And in the U.S., it’s prevented from sharing customer information online this way by a 23-year-old law called the Video Privacy Protection Act. After Netflix spins off Qwikster, and is just offering streaming content like Hulu, I think it’ll be much more likely to be legally free to jump in and create a Facebook app in the States.

Moon: Ah, much easier to divulge what we stream than what we physically rent, huh?

Henn: Yeah, that’s right. I wrote a post about it, it’s online.

Moon: Marketplace’s Steve Henn, thanks.

Henn: Sure thing.

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