May 24, 2019
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Facebook Marketplace

Facebook pivots to what it wishes it was

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In Facebook’s dreams, it’s a clean and private place. People spend their time having thoughtful discussions in “meaningful” Groups, planning offline meetups with Events, or laughing together in a Facebook Watch party.

In reality, Facebook is a cluttered mess of features that seem to constantly leak user data. People waste their time viewing inane News Feed posts from “friends” they never talk to, enviously stalking through photos of peers, or chowing on click-bait articles and viral videos in isolation. Facebook will never shake this reputation if it just keeps polishing its old features.

That’s why Facebook is rolling out what could be called an “aspirational redesign” known as FB5. Rather than polishing what Facebook was, it tries to spotlight what it wants to be. “This is the biggest change we’ve made to the Facebook app and site in five years” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said to open Facebook’s F8 conference yesterday.

The New Facebook

Most noticeably, that starts with sucking much of the blue out of the Facebook interface to making it look sparse and calming — despite a More button that unveils the social network’s bloat into dozens of rarely used features. A new logo features a brighter blue bubble around Facebook’s distinctive white f, which attempts to but a more uplifting spin on a bruised brand.

Functionally, FB5 means placing Groups near the center of a freshly tabbed interface for the both Facebook’s website and app, and putting suggestions for new ones to join across the service. “Everywhere there are friends, there should be Groups” says the head of the Facebook app Fidji Simo. Groups already has 1 billion monthly users, so Facebook is following the behavior pattern and doubling down. But Facebook’s goal is not only to have 2.38 billion people using the feature — the same number as use its whole app — but to get them all into meaningful Groups that emblematize their identity. 400 million already are. And now Groups for specific interests like gaming or health support will get special features, and power users will get a dashboard of updates across all their communities.

Groups will be flanked by Marketplace, perhaps the Facebook feature with the most latent potential. It’s a rapidly emerging use case Facebook wants to fuel. Just a a year and a half after launch, Marketplace had 800 million monthly users. Zuckerberg took Craigslist, added real identity to thwart bad behavior, and now is bolting it to the navigation bar of the most-used app on earth. The result is a place where it’s easy to put things up for sale and get tons of viewers. I once sold a couch on Marketplace in 20 minutes. Now sellers can take payments directly in the app instead of with cash or Venmo, and they can offer to ship items anywhere at the buyer’s expense. By following Zuckerberg’s mandate that 2019 focus on commerce, Facebook has become a viable Shopify competitor.

If Groups is what’s already working about Facebook’s future, Watch is the opposite. It’s a product designed to capture the video viewing bonanza Facebook observes on Netflix and YouTube. But without tent pole content like a “Game Of Thrones” or “Stranger Things”, it’s failed to impact the cultural zeitgeist. The closest thing it has to must-see video is Buffy The Vampire Slayer re-runs and a docuseries on NBA star Steph Curry. Facebook claims 75 million people now Watch for at least one minute per day though those 60 seconds don’t have to be  sequential. That’s still just 4 percent of its users. And a Diffusion study found 50 percent of adult US Facebook users had never even heard of Watch. Sticking it front and center demonstrates Facebook commitment to making Watch a hit even if it has to cram it down our throats.

Not The Old Facebook

The products of the past got little love on stage at F8. Nothing new for News Feed, Facebook’s mint but also the source of its misinformation woes. In the age of Snapchat and Zuckerberg’s newfound insistence on ephemerality to prevent embarrassment, the Timeline profile chronicling your whole Facebook life got nary a mention. And Pages for businesses that were the center of its monetization strategy years ago didn’t find space in the keynote, similar to how they’ve been butted out of the News Feed by competition and Facebook’s philosophical shift from public content to friends and family.

The one thing we heard a lot about but didn’t actually see much of was privacy. Zuckerberg started the conference declaring “The future is private!” He spoke about how Facebook plans to make its messaging apps encrypted, how it wants to be a living room rather than just a town hall, and how it’s following the shift in user behavior away from broadcasting. But we didn’t see any new privacy protections for the developer platform, a replacement for its Chief Security Officer that’s been vacant for nine months, or the Clear History feature Zuckerberg announced last year.

“I get that a lot of people aren’t sure that we’re serious about this. I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly” Zuckerberg joked without seeming to generate a single laugh. Combined with having little to show to enhance privacy, making fun of such a dire situation doesn’t instill much confidence. When Zuckerberg does take things seriously, it quickly manifests itself in the product like with Facebook’s 2012 shift to mobile, or in the company like with 2018’s doubling of security headcount. He knew mobile and content moderation failures could kill his network. But does someone who told Time magazine in 2010 that “What people want isn’t complete privacy” truly see a loose stance on privacy as an existential threat?

Interoperable, encrypted messaging will boost privacy, but it’s also just good business logic given Zuckerberg’s intention to own chat — the heart of your phone. Facebook’s creepiness stems from it sucking in data to power ad targeting. Nothing new was announced to address that. Despite his words, perhaps Zuckerberg doesn’t aspire to make Facebook as private as he aspired to make it mobile and secure. 

Wired reported that Zuckerberg authored a strategy book given to all employees ahead of the IPO that noted “If we don’t create the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will.” But F8 offered a new interpretation. Maybe given the lack of direct competitors in its league, and the absence of a mass exodus over its constant privacy scandals, it was the outdated product itself that was killing Facebook. The permanent Facebook. The all-you-do-is-scroll Facebook. The bored-of-my-friends Facebook. Users were being neglected rather than pushed away or stolen. By ignoring the past and emphasizing the products it aspires to have dominate tomorrow — Groups, Marketplace, Watch — Facebook can start to unchain itself from the toxic brand poisoning its potential.

FB QVC? Facebook tries Live video shopping

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Want to run your own home shopping network? Facebook is now testing a Live video feature for merchants that lets them demo and describe their items for viewers. Customers can screenshot something they want to buy and use Messenger to send it to the seller, who can then request payment right through the chat app.

Facebook confirms the new shopping feature is currently in testing with a limited set of Pages in Thailand, which has been a testbed for shopping features. The option was first spotted by social media and reputation manager Jeff Higgins, and re-shared by Matt Navarra and Social Media Today. But now Facebook is confirming the test’s existence and providing additional details.

The company tells me it had heard feedback from the community in Thailand that Live video helped sellers demonstrate how items could be used or worn, and provided richer understanding than just using photos. Users also told Facebook that Live’s interactivity let customers instantly ask questions and get answers about product specifications and details. Facebook has looked to Thailand to test new commerce experiences like home rentals in Marketplace, as the country’s citizens were quick to prove how Facebook Groups could be used for peer-to-peer shopping. “Thailand is one of our most active Marketplace communities” says Mayank Yadav, Facebook Product Manager for Marketplace.

Now it’s running the Live shopping test, which allows Pages to notify fans that they’re going broadcasting to “showcase products and connect with your customers”. Merchants can take reservations and request payments through Messenger.  Facebook tells me it doesn’t currently have plans to add new partners or expand the feature. But some sellers without access are being invited to join a waitlist for the feature. It also says it’s working closely with its test partners to gather feedback and iterate on the live video shopping experience, which would seem to indicate it’s interested in opening the feature more widely if it performs well.

Facebook doesn’t take a cut of payments through Messenger, but the feature could still help earn the company money at a time when it’s seeking revenue streams beyond News Feed ads as it runs out of space their, Stories take over as the top media form, and user growth plateaus. Hooking people on video viewing helps Facebook show lucrative video ads. The more that Facebook can train users to buy and sell things on its app, the better the conversion rates will be for businesses, and the more they’ll be willing to spend on ads. Facebook could also convince sellers who broadcast Live to buy its new Marketplace ad units to promote their wares. And Facebook is happy to snatch any use case from the rest of the internet, whether it’s long-form video viewing or job applications or shopping to boost time on site and subsequent ad views.

Increasingly, Facebook is setting its sights on Craigslist, Etsy, and eBay. Those commerce platforms have failed to keep up with new technologies like video and lack the trust generated by Facebook’s real name policy and social graph. A few years ago, selling something online meant typing up a generic description and maybe uploading a photo. Soon it could mean starring in your own infomercial.

[Postcript: And a Facebook home shopping network could work perfectly on its new countertop smart display Portal.]

Facebook Marketplace expands into home services

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Facebook is entering the home services market. Starting today, U.S. Facebook users browsing the Facebook Marketplace will be able to search thousands of home service professionals through a new feature that helps users locate top-rated and vetted professionals like house cleaners, plumbers, contractors, and others, as well as receive quotes.

The services experience will show up on Facebook’s Marketplace, but is populated with data from Facebook’s partners on this effort: Handy, HomeAdvisor, and Porch.

The company says the idea to launch a home services resource came about because people were always asking for recommendations for home pros on the network.

In fact, the number of people asking for home service recommendations in the U.S. is already well into the millions for the year, Facebook notes.

“More people ask for recommendations related to home services on Facebook in the U.S. than any other topic,” said Bowen Pan, Product Manager at Facebook, in a statement about the launch. “By partnering with Handy, HomeAdvisor, and Porch, people will now have a place on Marketplace to find the right professional to help with their next home project,” he said.

Through its partners, Facebook is able to provide access to hundreds of thousands of professionals, while also allowing users to see the professionals’ ratings, reviews, credentials, and location. Users can additionally request a quote right on the social networking site itself by describing their project, and sending it out to multiple professionals at once. The home service pros who respond can then communicate with the customer through Messenger to follow up on the lead.

The feature itself offers more than just a bunch of listings for users to sort through.

Instead, the main “Marketplace Services” page in Marketplace organizes pros into categories based around tasks, like “deep clean your home” or “get your backyard summer ready,” for example.

When users click on one of the prompts, they’re walked through a form to fill out other relevant data in order to find matching home pros. In the case of house cleaning, to continue the above example, a user would say how often they want a cleaning, how many bedrooms, the home’s square feet, and when they want the cleaning, along with other details. From the search results, they can then read all the service pro profiles and click a “Send” button to share their project request with those they choose. The service pro who follows up will respond on Messenger.

This is similar to what happens on Facebook today, though not in an organized a fashion. If you participate in any local group, you know it’s crammed with recommendation requests from other users – often the same request, repeatedly entered by different people at different times. (As no one ever thinks to use the Facebook Group’s search feature!).

The addition of home services to Marketplace may at least shift some of those inquires over to Marketplace. (Not all, though – personal recommendations from neighbors and friends will still be highly desired, even if pre-vetted home pro listings are available.)

The new offering is one of several category expansions for the Facebook Marketplace which is becoming one of the more viable challengers to Craigslist, thanks to other recent additions like home rentals and cars. And like those earlier expansions, Facebook pursued a similar strategy of working with partners to bring in these new listings.

Facebook, however, is not the only major tech company dabbling with home services.

Amazon expanded into this category several years ago, Walmart recently partnered with Handy on this front, and Google is also working with both HomeAdvisor and Porch in order connect its voice assistant users with home pros nearby.

But this is not the first time Facebook has taken aim at the home services market, either – back in December 2015, the company launched a local business search site at which let users look for local businesses and organizations that met their needs, including across home services. This site was still live as of yesterday, but it never really took off or was known to most Facebook users. It seemed to be more of an experiment on Facebook’s part, and was focused on surfacing businesses with Facebook Pages – not a true home services destination.

The new effort involving third-party data from partners means home pros may start finding more of their leads come from Facebook. And as result, they may feel compelled to set up a Facebook Page if they haven’t already.

We’ve asked Facebook for further details as to if or how it’s sharing revenue from bookings with its partners, but the company declined to comment prior to publication.

As of last year, Marketplace had been growing at a rate of 18 million new listings per month. And search volume had increased threefold as of last October.

Facebook says the new feature is rolling out today, and will become available to all U.S. users in the weeks ahead in the Facebook app.


Facebook’s Eddie O’Neil takes over Platform as Deb Liu grows Marketplace

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There’s a new czar running Facebook’s developer platform tools. Since Facebook’s classifieds feature Marketplace is growing, it will now command the full attention of Deb Liu who also previously ran platform. She’s now formally the VP of Marketplace. Eddie O’Neil, a 6-year Facebook who was a director of product management after coming from Salesforce engineering, will be the new head of Facebook Platform. He’s in charge of Facebook Analytics, Login, Account Recovery, Social Plugins, and support for SDKs, APIs, and other developer community products.

TechCrunch heard from a source that Facebook’s platform was undergoing an organizational change, and the company now confirms the leadership changes.

The organization change emphasizes just how important Facebook sees Marketplace. The feature lets people buy and sell goods from people in their area. As of May Marketplace saw 18 million items posted per month in the US, and expanded to 17 countries across Europe in August after rolling out in Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand and the UK.

Marketplace isn’t just furniture and electronics any more. Now it supports Jobs listings, Daily Deals thanks to a partnership with eBay, event tickets through Eventbrite and Ticketmaster, and products from the Shop section of Facebook business pages. Next, Facebook plans to let car dealership sell vehicles through Marketplace, and allow real estate agents to list apartments there.

Facebook has a huge opportunity to use its ubiquity, non-stop usage, and real identity system to outcompete Craigslist, the long-standing leader in online classifieds. The biggest problem with Craigslist is people don’t trust the strangers they want to transact with since there’s no profiles or social graphs.

With Facebook Marketplace, you could look to see if you have friends in common with someone you want to buy from, or that at least they have a filled-out profile with photos and friendships so they’re less likely to be a scammer or serial killer.

Building Marketplace into a worthy Craigslist competitor requires dedicated leadership. Liu has been at Facebook for a stunning eight years after stints at PayPal and eBay. She  previously ran the Facebook Credits game currency program and was a director of platform monetization. I’ve always found Liu to be both deeply knowledgable of Facebook product, but also warm and sociable in the ways necessary to understand what people want in order to grow a new part of Facebook.

Meanwhile, Eddie O’Neil will handle Facebook Platform division, which includes Facebook’s login tools for third-party apps, as well as outside app analytics. He reports to Ami Vora, Facebook’s VP of Product Management. The Facebook Platform turned 10 years old this year, and we wrote this deep dive into its rocky by successful journey.

Most recently, the team Platform launched Express Login for re-downloaded apps, voice call verification for login, UI customization and analytics for Account Kit that helps people login to third-party apps via phone or email, and delegated account recovery where users can get into third-party apps via Facebook if they lose their password.

However, Facebook’s developer tool offering has shrunk since it shut down its Parse mobile app platform early this year. The idea was always that if Facebook strengthened relationships with developers through offering free tools, they’d end up buying its tools to grow too. Now Facebook is a well-entrenched growth channel for app developers, and has so many diverse projects going on that it needed for focus.

But as the age of augmented reality approaches, Facebook will need all the cred with developers it can get. The physical world is too big for Facebook to fill with AR experiences by itself. As it starts to compete with Apple ARKit and Google ARCore, Facebook will have to rely on legions of developers who trust its technology platforms.

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