So far in 2015, Facebook (FB) stock hasn’t been sitting still. Shares have climbed 15% so far, more than doubling the gains of the broader Nasdaq.
During that time period, the biggest news out of the company came in the form of some mixed first-quarter results and the debut of Instant Articles.
It’s difficult to fairly gauge just how important Instant Articles will be with regards to Facebook’s bottom line, as part of the reason the feature gets so much attention is because it could shake up the entire media world. People in the media are naturally sensitive to news that might change their daily lives, so the topic might have received more attention than it really warranted.
But even allowing for the fact that Instant Articles coverage may be a bit frothy, the focus on content is a pretty core part of the way forward for the company. A quick sampling of some broad coverage that mentions Instant Articles include:
- It’s 2015 — You’d Think We’d Have Figured Out How To Measure Web Traffic By Now (FiveThirtyEight article by Sam Dean)
- Peering into the Future of Media and Content: A Dream or a Nightmare? (LinkedIn post by Shahed Ahmed)
- WEBSITE, PROFILED: Why are the most important people in media reading The Awl? (The Verge article by Josh Dzieza, Twitter h/t @ericpaulharding)
- The Next Internet Is TV (The Awl article by John Herrman)
But generally speaking, social media seems to run parallel to the fast-food industry these days. New menu items are tossed out for the sake newness. And this shallow, manufactured novelty often makes for nice “buzz” and “brand awareness” but hardly affects a company’s core business.
A prime example for Facebook is recent news that the company is testing a dedicated and integrated GIF keyboard. Hooray! Now instead of having to download a separate keyboard to be hilarious on Facebook and Facebook messenger, it will only take the click of a couple of buttons! Thats great because we are lazy.
Sarcasm aside, I guess the GIF keyboard could actually matter to Facebook in the sense that it serves as a counterpoint to the thesis that Facebook is losing its cool. (Even that stands on shaky ground, though, considering it’s hard to know how long will GIFs even stay cool.)
Beyond that, Facebook also recently announced something that could have more significance, as it goes hand-in-hand with Instant Articles and the future of Facebook’s aspirations to be a content platform. That something is more ways for users to personalize their News Feeds.
The biggest feature to this end is a “See First” button that allows you to star a person or page so it’s always tops the “Top Stories” feed. It’s the opposite of an unfollow button, on steroids.
With Instant Articles in mind, Facebook is basically putting a Flipboard-style functionality on its site, allowing users to self-curate their daily news consumption — whether that news comes in the form of the posting of your best friend’s engagement photos or the publication of a new article from your favorite investment site.
If users begin to use their News Feed as a primary source of news, more and more publishers may be forced to buy into the Instant Articles game, or risk getting left out altogether.
From a media perspective, there are still plenty of questions marks, of course.
For instance, while more control for users may seem like a victory, Shahed Ahmed pointed out that, “in a weird way” they’re also losers, because, “the platform’s built-in algorithms [will] evolve to, likely inadvertently, push homogenous content to their users.”
But from an investment perspective, it’s probably a good thing — another functionality to serve as fuel for Facebook’s transformation from social media site to content platform.
Alyssa Oursler is based in San Francisco and writes about technology, investing, gender and entrepreneurship. Her work has appeared on Business Insider, MSN Money and more. You can follow her on Twitter here or check out her personal site here. As of this writing, she did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.