Can Facebook be cool again? It’s trying with Reels global launch

February 23, 2022, 6:32 PM UTC

At a certain point in life, there comes a moment when you realize that, no matter how hard you try to stay hip, you’re just not cool anymore.

So it is with Facebook, teetering on the edge of uncool at the ripe old age of 18, straining through sheer corporate might to turn back the clock.

After several years of catering to everyone, amassing nearly two billion daily active users, Facebook now wants to return to its youthful roots. That attempted rebirth took another giant leap forward Tuesday, with Facebook’s global launch of its TikTok knockoff, Reels.

The short-form video feature serves as Facebook’s primary offering to its newly re-coveted under-30 demographic, which leaders of parent company Meta see as the platform’s future given its high monetization potential. Meta launched Reels on its other primary social media app, Instagram, in 2020, then debuted it on Facebook in the U.S. last September.

The success or failure of Reels will offer a tantalizing window into the current stature of Facebook, illustrating whether corporate know-how and deep pockets can overcome losing that ephemeral aura of cool.

And make no mistake: Facebook is firmly stuck in a midlife crisis. 

As Bloomberg reported last October, citing internal records obtained through the so-called Facebook Files leak: “The number of young adults on Facebook in the U.S. has declined 2% since 2019, and is expected to continue falling by an additional 4% over the next two years. Those young adults are also sharing less than they were a year ago, and sending fewer messages.”

More concerningly for Facebook, U.S. teens are abandoning Facebook at a rapid rate, with no indication they will pick up the app again in young adulthood. An annual teen survey conducted by financial firm Piper Sandler showed only 27% of them used Facebook monthly in 2021, down from 60% in 2016. Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok—all of which are built on photos or short-form videos—each scored monthly usage rates ranging from 73% to 81% last year, per the survey.

“Over the last decade, as the audience that uses our apps has expanded so much and we’ve focused on serving everyone, our services have gotten dialed to be the best for the most people who use them rather than specifically for young adults,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on an earnings call last October. 

“…So we are retooling our teams to make serving young adults their north star, rather than optimizing for the larger number of older people.” 

In its effort to reverse the hands of time via Reels, Facebook boasts some advantages.

As Meta executives noted earlier this month, the company has experience successfully replicating a competitor’s popular product: Instagram’s Stories feature is a virtual clone of Snapchat.

Facebook also could benefit from deeper integration with Instagram. Notably, Meta said Tuesday that it’s “exploring ways to make it easier for creators to share Reels to both their Facebook and Instagram audiences, such as crossposting.” 

By spreading Reels across both platforms, which combine to total roughly four billion daily active users globally, Meta could potentially entice profit-driven creators—whose content serves as the lifeblood of algorithmically-driven video apps—with bigger payouts than its competitors. (TikTok said it eclipsed one billion daily active users last September, while Snapchat reported 319 million daily active users in the final quarter of 2021.)

Facebook still has a short window for recapturing its youthful glory. If it fails, though, chalk up yet another victory for undefeated Father Time.

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Jacob Carpenter


The info wars. European Union legislators unveiled a bill Wednesday that would force companies to loosen data sharing restrictions in Europe, part of the governing bloc’s effort to weaken the power of the world’s largest tech outfits, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Data Act would allow smaller companies to gain access to more consumer data, while also providing consumers with more options for accessing and sharing information collected on products they own. Top tech companies, however, argue the requirements would prove time -consuming and costly to implement.

Fewer people biting. OpenSea, the world’s largest non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace, saw a significant decline in activity over the past week following a phishing scam that targeted its users, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. DappRadar data showed seven-day trading volume fell by 37% as of Tuesday, with only one day of sales exceeding $100 million. Trading volume occasionally topped $200 million over the previous two weeks. An unidentified hacker successfully targeted 17 OpenSea users in the phishing attack, stealing 254 tokens valued at about $2 million. 

One less problem. Microsoft’s Defender for Cloud offering will now cover the Google Cloud platform, a development aimed at simplifying the security needs of customers using multiple cloud providers, TechRadar reported Wednesday. The Microsoft security service, which identifies potential and existing cloud-computing vulnerabilities, already supports the company’s own cloud offering, Azure, and Amazon Web Services. Many large companies use multiple cloud platforms, requiring a patchwork of cybersecurity products that can be difficult to manage.

Game on. Sony unveiled its first virtual-reality headset upgrade in five years on Tuesday, showing off a PlayStation-compatible device that aims to compete with hardware from Meta and other VR rivals, CNBC reported. Sony has not yet announced a release date or price point for the PlayStation VR2, which includes upgraded lenses and a lighter feel. The device will arrive as Meta makes huge investments in virtual and augmented reality, with Apple also expected to join the VR fray in the coming months.


Back to your seats. No, the office isn’t dead yet. In fact, tech companies are snatching up commercial space at record rates, signaling that the work-from-home era might soon come to an end for many employees, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Meta, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other Big Tech outfits are building or expanding their square footage throughout the U.S. and Europe, betting that in-person collaboration remains a vital corporate necessity.

From the article:

In January, 48% of people in computer and math fields and 35% of those in architecture or engineering said they had worked from home at some point because of the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But companies, real estate analysts and workplace experts said several factors were propelling the trend, including a hiring boom, a race to attract and retain top talent and a sense that offices will play a key role in the future of work. In the last three quarters of 2021, the tech industry leased 76% more office space than it did a year earlier, according to the real estate company CBRE.


Instagram just made it harder to limit your time on the app, by Jonathan Vanian

Elon Musk is still upset that Biden is ignoring Tesla—but promises he won’t embarrass the president if they meet, by Nicholas Gordon

A man is suing OpenSea for $1 million over the theft of his Bored Ape NFT, by Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez

Tweets from Kraken and Coinbase CEOs criticizing Trudeau’s emergency powers reportedly sent to Canadian police, by Stephen Wicary, Joanna Ossinger, and Bloomberg

‘Deep learning is a completely terrible idea for security,’ says cybersecurity expert, by Jonathan Vanian

Europe’s path to digital sovereignty will be paved with 5G technology, by Martijn Rasser and Carisa Nietsche


A Siri update. Apple’s next iPhone software upgrade will bring a more gender-neutral version of its signature voice assistant. Per Axios, iPhone’s iOS 15.4 will feature a fifth “American” option for Siri’s voice, this one decidedly less male- or female-sounding. Current Siri options include four traditionally American-sounding voices, including two recorded by Black voice actors, as well as male and female options with common Australian, British, Indian, Irish, and South African accents. There’s no word yet on when the latest iteration of Siri will drop.

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