Business

Facebook users are Zucking off, but that's what Zuck wants

More than ever, YOU are Facebook's product as it trashes cat vids

By Richard Chirgwin

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Facebook's announced revenue of US$12.97bn for Q42017, plus profit of $4.23bn, even though it also owned up that tweaks to its news feed prompted a fall in time spent on the site.

The company's 2017 full year also produced eye-watering numbers: revenue surpassed $40bn and profit jumped 56 per cent to nearly $16bn. That's after the Trump tax changes stung the company to the tune of a one-off $2.3bn hit on overseas profits.

The ad-farm and troll-herder's news feed tweaks cost it about 50 million hours' on-site each day, which Mark Zuckerberg explained was an outcome of Facebook doing “everything we can to amplify the good”, minimise the harm the social network causes and de-emphasise content promoted by publishers.

That fall in time on-site came in spite of Facebook growing its daily active users from 1.284 billion at the end of 2016 to 1.401 billion at the end of 2017 – a bit over nine per cent growth. The number of monthly active users also grew, ending the year at 2.129 billion.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the dwindling amount of time spent on the site, saying “helping people connect is more important than maximising the time they spend on Facebook”. He again said Facebook plans to prioritise “meaningful social interactions” over the “passive consumption of content”.

Much of the touchy-feely from Zuck's address to the investors made it into this post … but not the literal money shot.

“When you care about something, you're willing to see ads to experience it. If you just come across a viral video, you're more likely to skip over if you see an ad.”

Or in other words, “time on site” can be sacrificed without losing too much ad revenue, because advertisers don't care to be charged for stuff you click on next to a cat video. Either that or advertisers have become better at measuring their spend with Facebook, and identifying what kinds of views they want.

Which makes you Facebook's real product, perhaps more so than ever before.

Or as Zuck put it: “If we do the right thing, and deliver deeper value, our community and our business will be stronger over the long term.” ®

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