Facebook takes on Medium and LinkedIn with new Notes look
Eagle-eyed programmer and blogging pioneer Dave Winer spotted something a little different on Facebook this week: An updated version of the social network’s Notes feature, which allows users to post longer pieces of writing than they might in a regular status update. With room for a large image at the top and a much cleaner design, the new version looks very much like Medium, the open blogging platform that was founded by former Twitter CEO Evan Williams after he left the company.
Users of Facebook FB could be forgiven for thinking that Notes is a brand-new feature, because it has been around for so long—and is so little used—that most people have either never heard of it or have forgotten that it exists. It was originally launched in 2006, but has been buried by subsequent enhancements to the service. Facebook confirmed it is experimenting with a new look.
Some have ascribed the more Medium-like feel of Notes to the fact that the company recently hired the founders of Teehan & Lax, the firm that helped design many of Medium’s most compelling features, like the wide format and the use of large images. In any case, it seems fairly obvious why Facebook might want to imitate Medium: Because the social network increasingly wants to have content of all kinds published directly on its platform, rather than just updates with links.
This is the impetus behind Instant Articles, the project that Facebook launched recently with mainstream media partners such as the New York Times and The Guardian. The idea is that publishers will post their stories directly to Facebook rather than just a link, and in return they will get broader reach and a share of the advertising revenue.
Blogging started as a wide-open field that anyone could enter by setting up a site with software like WordPress or Blogger (which Evan Williams also founded), but during the last few years many individual bloggers have stopped writing in favor of using social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Other blogs that started as individual efforts, such as TechCrunch, have become more professional enterprises and even been acquired by larger media entities such as AOL and Vox Media.
The need for a platform on which to write hasn’t gone away. But for many, the venue of choice has changed from an individually-hosted blog to giant platforms like Medium or LinkedIn LNKD, which offer writing tools but also the opportunity to reach a much larger audience.
With more than 1.4 billion users, Facebook offers the largest audience imaginable, which could make an enhanced version of Notes an appealing feature for many who might otherwise write on Medium or LinkedIn. And since the social network controls the algorithm that determines what users see and when, it can generate even larger audiences for the material it likes (although that control can also be a potential risk for media companies).
Whether the new design can revive interest in Facebook’s Notes is unclear, but there is little doubt that Facebook wants to host as much as possible on its platform, rather than just being a repository for links that go elsewhere. And that desire extends across all forms of content, from text to video.