Put aside for one moment the recent headlines. Forget about Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg facing politicians in Washington. And park everything you’ve heard about Cambridge Analytica.

There are problems with the way most media organisations report Facebook. It’s something no-one ever talks about.

The first problem is that media organisations are not disinterested external observers.

Media company

You could argue that Facebook is the world’s most powerful media company. You could make a case that it is more powerful than any other media company in history.

Sure, Facebook insists it is not a media company. But that idea is ridiculous. It publishes material and extracts revenue from advertising. That’s a classic description of how the media world has operated for over a century.

Even if you don’t accept Facebook is a media company, it is not separate from the media industry.

The site can channel huge numbers of readers to, say, an online news site. The fact that it doesn’t do a good job of this is neither here or there.

What’s important is that editors and publishers are wary of making an enemy of someone with that power. This doesn’t have to be conscious or cynical. Unconscious influences are as effective as deliberate kowtowing.

Desperate times

That said, some media organisations and their employees feel so desperate that they may put aside traditional media ethics when it comes to scrutinising the hand that they hope will feed them.

Never mind that Facebook is responsible for the mess those media companies are in.

The second problem with the way the media covers Facebook is that most media organisations see it as a technology company. They usually assign specialist technology writers to cover it. A lot of the time, they relegate coverage to their technology ghetto pages.

While Facebook uses technology, so does everyone else. It’s no more a technology company than, say, the newspaper publisher in your city. Sure, there are apps. But most newspapers also have apps. It uses a customer database. So does almost every other business.

There’s very little that is unique, clever or inherently technical about Facebook. The one thing it has going is a powerful algorithm for connecting people to each other, figuring out their preferences and then packaging them so advertisers can target them with, what the company would claim is, pin-point accuracy. It’s big, but in technical terms it is trivial.

Technology

Compared to Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon, Facebook is not a technology company. You could describe it as a technology-enabled business. Now go and find any global enterprise that isn’t.

The problem with this is that media organisations frame Facebook as a technology story. They categorise it in a technology ghetto. They assign the story to journalists who might be skilled at decrypting an annual report from, say, Apple or interpreting the latest software from Google.

And, let’s be honest here, most of the time they do not give reporters the time or resources needed to unpick the story behind the story. After all most stories about Facebook don’t seem worth much more than the once-over-lightly treatment.

All of this explains why the media, indeed most of the world, was blindsided by revelations about what goes on behind the scenes at Facebook. It’s not so much the company was operating in stealth mode, at least no more than any other large corporation, it’s that there’s not enough outside scrutiny.

Framing Facebook: It’s not about technology was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.

Indieweb – why you should take more control of your online presence and how to use WordPress to do it.

What you post online should belong to you, not a corporation. That corporation can close shop or change its rules tomorrow: you may not be able to get at your own data.

Even if you can get at your data, you often have little control over who can see your posts and messages.

The IndieWeb is all about you keeping control over your posts and data. Think of it as a declaration of independence. It means you get to choose who can see your material where and when. The idea is to build a long- presence that big business interests can’t take away.

It doesn’t mean you have to walk away from Facebook, Twitter or any other service. It does mean you don’t need to be trapped in someone else’s walled garden.

Indieweb and WordPress

WordPress is an ideal open source tool for building a personal online presence. You don’t need to be a developer to use it. And the Indieweb is a great way to get more from a WordPress web site.

At the November WordPress meet up I’ll talk about the ideas behind the Indieweb. We’ll discuss the problems it solves. Then I’ll look at the WordPress themes, plug-ins and other tools to help make it work. I’ll also talk about my experience using them in practice and in my work as a journalist.

There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions during the presentation and after.

Event details:

notifications are hellIt doesn’t matter what app it is — they are all trying to get me to turn on notifications, again and again, so that I can come back to their service. Facebook and Instagram are the most aggressive, b

Source: Still living in a Notification hell – Om Malik

There comes a point where this is counter-productive with some users. In my case I first smelled a rat with Linkedin because of the constant barrage of notification mails. The service seemed desperate to get my attention.

That got thinking about the value I got from LinkedIn — close to zero and certainly not enough to compensate for the  time lost.

I killed my LinkedIn account. Nothing bad happened. In all the years I was a member I got maybe, one small freelance writing gig from LinkedIn. Since leaving my work in-tray is as full as it was and I’ve eliminated a time-sink.

Leaving Facebook is harder. There are people who are important to me who I’m in touch with there. The don’t seem to have any alternative online life. So the account lives, but I’ve turned off all notifications. In fact I’ve turned off almost all notifications from every online service or piece of software.

The only exceptions are where I need to react fast for business reasons. And, anything relating to my immediate family.

Here’s the thing. Nothing bad has happened. If anything I’m more productive.

Notifications are often not about serving our needs, but are about someone else’s business model.

starry night

Scientists say a meteor hit the earth 66 million years ago and wiped out most dinosaurs.

Journalists know how they felt. A meteor crashed into our world in the 1990s.

The internet’s effect wasn’t immediate. Now, two decades on, mostformer journalists work in other industries. The media companies that employed them have either gone or are shadows of what they once were.

After the apocalypse

A handful write on. At times it feels like life in post-apocalypse science fiction.

Some ex-journalists eke out a living in what remains of the media. A few adapted to the new conditions, new rules, new demands and disciplines [1].

A decade or so after the first meteor hit, a second one arrived. Facebook threatens to kill off what’s left of the independent media.

The Empire strikes back

The cover story of this week’s The Economist nails it: Facebook is an empire. That’s no metaphor. The social network’s power and reach rivals that of the USA.

Facebook has more inhabitants than China. It owns more souls than any religion. It makes more money than almost anything. It knows more about you than the CIA or any other spy agency in history.

The numbers are daunting. There are 1.6 billion users. The Economist says around a billion of them use Facebook every day. On average they each spend 20 minutes at the site.

As a result Facebook is the sixth largest company in the world. And it continues to grow. Founder Mark Zuckerberg isn’t done yet.

Facebook is impressive. It appeared almost overnight. It innovates, takes risks and adapts to external changes at internet-speed.

Welcome to the new internet, not like the old internet

In some third world countries Facebook is, in effect, the internet. It controls the networks delivering services to users.

Facebook wants to have the same dominance elsewhere. The business is spreading into entertainment, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. There has never been a walled garden like this before.

Because Facebook knows so much about you and everyone else, it can target advertising with precision. This makes it valuable to advertisers.

Today Facebook is only second to Google in delivering online advertising. Together the two companies account for half of all mobile advertising. Their share is growing.

Advertising

Advertising is the media industry’s oxygen. With Facebook and Google sucking up an ever larger share, there is less, far less, left for publishers. And that means less to pay for journalists. In turn that means fewer valuable stories, less information, a less informed public.

Many media companies stopped fighting cat Gifs and click-bait. Instead they fill their channels with their own junk content in an attempt to protect market share.

Last year Facebook moved directly into the media space by launching Instant Articles. It is a technique to push out content faster. Instant Articles means media companies have to play ball with Facebook to make it work. That means sharing the thin advertising gruel with the online giant.

Media response

Many publishers have, in effect, yielded to Facebook. They are no longer masters of their own destiny. That’s risky, Facebook has its own agenda. It changes policy and strategy overnight. It does what it damn well pleases. It has never been a good partner.

Another risk is that Facebook acts as a censor. It has a prim approach that plays well with America’s mid-west, but doesn’t translate to other cultures. It gets to decide what is and isn’t allowed. Far right and extreme left views may not be acceptable. Conservative social opinions may not be tolerated.

Whether you agree with the censorship decisions or not, this leads to bland, homogenised media. It could mean important new ideas don’t get a proper hearing. It could send dangerous ideas further underground.

Until now, freedom of expression has always been a given online. That could go.

Facebook not friend

Facebook has a low reputation for trustworthiness by big company standards, mainly because it makes money from selling personal data to advertisers. It changes its own rules to suit its needs. Overnight private data can be made public. This is not the best organisation to filter and distribute news or other timely information.

It’s hard to avoid Facebook. But we need to stay wary and critical. I post my story links there, not being on the site isn’t a practical option. I wish it was. Perhaps even thinking that way makes me a dinosaur. If so, it’s a badge I wear with pride.


  1. If you need someone to write for your website get in touch.  ↩

IBM cloudIBM’s reinvention as a software and services business still serves as an object lesson in turning troubled technology companies around. It switched from dependence on mainframe and servers to selling software, services and outsourcing.

At the time, the turnaround seemed miraculous. Now IBM needs to pull another rabbit from the hat.

The technology market is going through yet another transition. IBM has placed plenty of bets in the brave new world. It even has an acronym for these markets: CAMSS (cloud, analytics, mobile, security and social). They are all fast-growing areas, but IBM’s efforts are not growing fast enough to offset declines elsewhere in the company’s portfolio.

Worse, these new lines of business have lower margins than existing lines, which in turn have lower margins than IBM’s mainframe-era businesses.

This IBM reinvention is late to market

IBM was late to all these exciting new markets. Take cloud: In the latest financial report IBM says cloud revenues climbed 50 percent year on year. We need to be careful with these numbers as IBM has a habit of bundling hardware sales services into its cloud revenue numbers.

To put IBM’s figure in perspective, Amazon recently announced 80 percent year on year growth in cloud services.

Despite billion-dollar investments and Softlayer (a cloud business) acquisition, IBM trails a long way behind Amazon and Microsoft in market share[1]. Gartner also marks IBM behind Google and Rackspace on “ability to execute”.

To be fair, IBM isn’t a plain vanilla cloud company. It often wraps cloud with other sophisticated services. That sounds good, but it could be a problem. IBM doesn’t have the culture needed to run the commodity cloud infrastructure customers demand.

The cloud market looks set to shake down with a handful of global giants emerging along with specialist and geographic niche players. IBM doesn’t rate in the top five cloud companies. Its best hope is to be a specialist cloud niche player.

The other new markets are similar. IBM isn’t doing well in analytics and apart from a deal with Apple is nowhere in mobile.

IBM has yet to explain what the social part of CAMSS means, which leaves security. Now there’s no question security is an important and growing market. There will be fortunes made in this area, but security alone is not enough to sustain IBM. At least not the company we know.

Low margin business

One odd aspect of IBM’s strategy is the company is throwing money at risky, low-margin areas that don’t suit its culture. The cash might be better spent leveraging strengths.

Sure, the mainframe market is in long-term decline, but as ZDNet reports revenue from IBM’s latest mainframe was up 9 percent year-on-year.

IBM’s strategic problem is that it has no answers for the changes taking place in the industry. The people able to make the right decisions are the kind of people who don’t rise to the top of the company’s conservative culture.

The company’s stock response when a market turns into a low-margin commodity business is to sell it off and breath a sigh of relief that it doesn’t have to get dirty down there. It’s done that with printers, PCs and more recently, with servers. Then, every so often, it embarks on another session of masochistic cost reduction, which means sacking workers and making those who remain less motivated and even more risk averse.

This approach avoids difficult questions like “how can we adjust our business model to deal with the new realities?” It’s a question IBM can’t put off any longer.


  1. Although market share can be misleading in technology discussions, it is important in cloud computing because of economies of scale.  ↩