Facebook has over 1.71 billion monthly active users* – more than the population of the worlds largest country and it is continuing to grow daily. 1.57 billion* of these users access the site from a mobile device and Facebook are responding to this by rolling out new features on their Facebook and Messenger app whilst the desktop site remains relatively unchanged. With more features and content being added to the app regularly, a closed ecosystem is developing and users can access almost anything they need without the need to leave. Facebook doesn’t just want to own the Internet; Facebook wants to be it.
The reason this is working is down to the unparalleled popularity of Facebook as a social media site. With a monopoly on users, Facebook can drive away competition from other services simply by being something that people are already on board with. Take the introduction of Facebook Live for example. Live video streaming has been popular for sometime with apps like Periscope, but now that the same service is available on Facebook, why go anywhere else? There is no need to download a new app or persuade friends to sign up and users now have another reason to go on Facebook. Similarly, Facebook games, Instant Articles and video integration have increased users’ app ‘dwell time’. By delivering content users want to see based on their own likes and the opinions of their friends, the experience of playing, watching or reading is enhanced on Facebook and users are much more likely to engage.
One of the most interesting features Facebook has introduced to its app to increase time spent on the site is one that might have passed users by. The Facebook browser is a stripped-down web-view window that allows users to stay within the Facebook site when opening external links (links that would previously have meant navigating away). By opening links on Facebook, the in-app browser shares information back to the site whilst the user has a normal web view experience. Although it is still basic, the Facebook browser allows users to bookmark pages, navigate back and forth, and displays the sentiment of other Facebook users in a response bar at the bottom. Most importantly, loading is fast and entirely seamless between the app and browser making it highly unlikely users will opt to view this content elsewhere.
So what does Facebook gain from this move towards providing users with a closed ecosystem? The short answer is data. By adding more features and therefore increasing users’ ‘dwell time’, Facebook are not only increasing the amount of time a user can be shown ads, but also gathering more information on the kinds of ads they want to see. With the in-app browser, Facebook learns what websites a user has visited, and for those taking the time to comment or react, exactly how they feel about the content delivered. Put this information together with information on the games they like to play and the articles they like to read, and the personal and social information already shared on their profile and Facebook have a rich and complex insight into the sentiment and personality of each individual user. This information can be used to create content that keeps users hooked and is shared with advertisers to deliver highly tailored, relevant advertising that appeals to the user without them feeling like their online space has been invaded. Ultimately click rate and sales are increased and the value of Facebook’s advertising space is raised.
Facebook is changing the way we use the internet and by adding more features to its ecosystem, users are becoming self sufficient on the site with less reasons to leave and fewer decisions to make, sharing their habits, tastes and opinions with the Facebook simply by interacting. The next logical step for the company would seem to be the development of a full Facebook browser. This would not only give users more reason to head straight to Facebook when they go online, but also keeping them off major competitor sites such as Google. Improving the limited functionality of its existing in-app browser by adding the option to type URLs and tab support would be a game changer and bring Facebook one step closer to its goal, meaning that going online really does become synonymous with going on Facebook.
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*As of July 2016 – https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/