Last month, reports circulated that Facebook was testing a new version of its 'Notes' blogging option to become more of a player in the long-form content landscape. At that time, we noted that on-platform blogging could be a big win for Facebook, following a similar model to LinkedIn which now has more than a million of their users posting long-form blog content direct to the site. Well, those reports have proven to be accurate - Facebook has today confirmed, via an official blog post, that a new version of Notes is now active, with a range of new features and additions to make it a more appealing proposition for bloggers and readers alike.
The new version of Notes is a major improvement on Facebook's personal blog offering - for context, a post in the 'old' Notes looks like this:
And while I could put a photo in there for additional context, there's really not much more to it, it's very simple, very basic. Very bland. The new version, according to Facebook, makes Notes "more beautiful and customizable".
From the official announcement:
"With this update, you can add a cover photo that represents what your note is all about. You can caption and resize photos, and format your text into headers, quotes or bullets."
Old 'Notes' on the left and New 'Notes' on the right
As has been pointed out by various outlets, the new layout looks a lot like Medium - which is not such a bad thing, Medium's a great looking blog option designed to prioritize text content and improve the reading experience.
Medium (left) vs new Notes (right)
And it works - Medium has many high-profile contributors who praise the site, and with more than 17 million unique visitors per month, they're clearly doing something right.
The new Notes is an interesting option, and one which aligns further with Facebook's ambitions to dominate all time spent on the internet. The push into hosting more original content on the platform started with Instant Articles, which was then boosted when Facebook announced an algorithm update which would favor time spent reading posts - which, of course, means it'll favor long-form content. That being the case, the increased reach of those longer form posts, as determined by the updated algorithm, might just be enough to get more people considering Facebook as a legitimate blogging option. Facebook's reach capacity is unmatched, there's no where else you'll have the potential to hit as big an audience as you will on The Social Network. This is the carrot Zuckerberg and Co are holding out in front of all publishers at the moment, and just this week they've moved to ramp up Instant Articles and get more Instant content flowing through the network. Instant Articles is the first step at Facebook becoming a major player in publishing - add to that the new journalist tools they've added, like access to Facebook's live-streaming functionality and the addition of 'Signal' for journalistic research, and it's clear that this is something Facebook is taking very seriously, advancing their publishing project in a very calculated and structured way.
When viewed from this context, it's not hard to imagine that Facebook may soon become the core hub of online publishing. Add in the fact that the vast majority of time people spend using smartphones is in apps, and that Facebook is the leader in terms of app time spent, and you can see how Facebook could spread it's dominance into the publishing arena. Pretty soon, you won't need to go anywhere else to read content or get your news fix, Facebook will find it all and serve it up for you, delivered faster than traditional web browsing and more specifically aligned to your personal interests and preferences.
In this sense, building a new personal blogging option is a great move, as it will encourage more users to post more original content to The Social Network. As more publishers come on board, and more people come to rely on Facebook as a content source, bloggers will also be able to capitalize on that attention and build audience by aligning with the shift in reader behavior - a post on your WordPress page might get 100 readers, but maybe, on Facebook, you get a thousand, a big draw. But of course, building an audience on Facebook also means you're building a reliance on 'borrowed land', and Facebook can change the rules on you at any moment, reducing your content reach and pushing you towards paid promotion. But maybe, by that stage, bloggers will be so reliant on Facebook traffic that they'll have no choice.
This is all long term projection and speculation, but you can see how Facebook might be planning out their takeover of internet publishing, in all forms. In effect, this is how Facebook won over businesses, creating a platform that offered great audience reach, then slowly reducing that capacity and forcing businesses to pay for the privilege. Could this announcement be the first step in them doing the same to bloggers?
Facebook's new Notes will be available to all users shortly via the desktop version and fully viewable on mobile.