Start Up No.1848: Facebook revenues and profits drop, the bad old Instagram?, FTC blocks Meta VR buy, an M2 Mac Pro?, and more

The price of newsprint has rocketed by 40% in 18 months, putting a fresh squeeze on publishers of newspapers and magazines. CC-licensed photo by Jeff Eaton on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. The blue site is very much back. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook without news would be even worse • The Atlantic

Kaitlyn Tiffany:


In November, I tried to make a fresh, totally apolitical account with a News Feed that would be devoid of anything that could possibly inspire a partisan opinion. As I wrote at the time, Facebook without news and politics (or, admittedly, any friends or family) amounted to little more than “bad advice, stolen memes, shady businesses, and sophomoric jokes repeated over and over.”

I’m far from the first person to point out that Facebook has been largely overrun with garbage content. Now [University of Quebec journalism professor Jean-Hugues] Roy’s study suggests that, without news links, many users will find almost nothing of value. Sarah Schmalbach, a product director who works in journalism, came to the same conclusion in 2016 after manually removing news from her own Facebook feed and seeing what was left: “mostly personal photos, advertisements and a range of rants.” Like Roy, Schmalbach suggests that companies like Facebook should be sharing revenue with news organizations.

In this context, Facebook’s News Feed—which has never been limited to news reports, per se—has been a site of anxiety for both users and the company itself, which tinkers with the items it promotes there, adjusting for emotional valence, political inflection, and concentration of media content. In April 2021, Product Management Director Aastha Gupta wrote in a company blog post that Facebook had heard its users’ wishes for “more inspiring and uplifting content,” and would be experimenting with moving “more inspirational posts” closer to the top of the News Feed. Six months later, The Washington Post’s Will Oremus argued that the feed had become a “junk-mail folder.”

In an email, a Facebook spokesperson told me that the “inspirational content” test is over, and that news-article links compose a very small part of the Facebook experience, making up only 4% of what users see in their feeds. The company cited the same statistic in February 2021, when it blocked news content for users in Australia.


It’s dying. It’s a site that is dying, because what people post is so terrible that if it isn’t leavened with professionally produced content, nobody wants to read it. Or watch it. (Don’t ask me to explain why this doesn’t apply to TikTok: they’re teens. So, equivalent to professionals.)
unique link to this extract

You don’t want the old Instagram • Lorenz’s Newsletter

Taylor Lorenz, apparently building a side line from the Washington Post – just in case?:


We don’t want to express ourselves the way we did in 2014. Our notions of social norms, privacy, and what constitutes entertaining content are different now. Reverting Instagram into some old format would make it harder for us to express ourselves and connect in modern ways.

I understand people’s frustration with Instagram. It’s a saturated, messy product that’s clearly suffering an identity crisis. In 2017 I wrote about how the future would bring a fracturing between social (connecting with friends) and media (consuming content/entertainment). For the past 10 years Instagram has been both, and I think we’re finally seeing those tensions come to a head. 

The investor Rex Woodbury put it this way, “There’s a war between people who want Instagram to be more like Snapchat and people who want it to be more TikTok. Right now the former group is larger and louder.”

It’s tempting to think that if Instagram simply reverted to a previous design or reinstated a chronological feed, that would somehow bring us closer to the people we care about. But we don’t forge personal connections by sharing or commenting on highly personal public-facing photos that are permanently displayed on a grid anymore. These days, intimacy is fostered through features like DMs, group chats, or ephemeral posts to Close Friends. 

It’s a testament to Instagram that these viral protests are all centered around pressuring a multi billion dollar tech giant to figure out ways to get us all to spend more time on the app. But I don’t think that the next generation of social products will come from reverting to old features. I hope at least some people unsatisfied with what Instagram is offering try to build something new. 


I think she’s right that Instagram is being torn in two directions – is it for creation, by us, the users, or consumption, by us, the users? Adam Mosseri, in his video the other day, seemed to suggest it was the creators who he wanted to keep happy. As a user, I don’t like the new Instagram appearance or feel. It used to be a small space of calm where you could contemplate nice photos, and moments from friends and acquaintances. Now, it’s a funfair barker of a place, yelling and recommending and scrolling and moving. I don’t like it. And, just to remind Instagram, there are more users than creators.
unique link to this extract

Facebook parent Meta reports first ever revenue drop • WSJ

Salvador Rodriguez:


“We seem to have entered an economic downturn that will have a broad impact on the digital advertising business,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday. “It’s always hard to predict how deep or how long these cycles will be, but I’d say that the situation seems worse than it did a quarter ago,” he said on an earnings call.

Meta is grappling with a digital advertising market in upheaval from soaring inflation and other factors that are causing a slowdown in ad spending. Google parent Alphabet Inc. on Tuesday reported the slowest rate of growth since the second quarter of 2020, when the pandemic crimped demand for advertising in some areas. Rival Snap Inc. reported its weakest-ever quarterly sales growth last week while Twitter reported a decline in revenue.

Meta also disclosed that Facebook’s daily active user base rose to 1.97 billion users. The figure was 1.96 billion three months ago. The increase defied expectations of analysts surveyed by FactSet who thought user numbers would fall.

The company posted a net profit of $6.7bn for the second quarter, the third quarter in a row Meta’s bottom line has fallen. The company hasn’t experienced such a slump since the fourth quarter of 2012.

The weak advertising demand was reflected in Meta’s average price per ad, which fell 14% in the quarter. A year ago, the company reported an increase of 47%, year over year, for its average price per ad.

Chief Financial Officer David Wehner said in a statement that the company, like others, is feeling the pinch from the strong dollar, which is weighing on the top line.


But it’s also hurting from Apple making a small change in iOS: setting it to ask people if they wanted to be tracked when Facebook and others try to. Turns out, people don’t, and Facebook is paying the price, which is around $10bn. Most expensive modal box ever.
unique link to this extract

Facebook considering ending restrictions on Covid misinformation • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


Facebook is turning to its “supreme court” to decide whether to end restrictions on Covid misinformation, more than two years after the company first started to take special action on posts promoting falsehoods about the disease.

The social network is considering changing the way it deals with such misinformation by, for example, labelling it as false or demoting it in algorithmic ranking, rather than simply removing it from the site. It wants to make the change now, according to head of global affairs, Nick Clegg, “as many, though not all, countries around the world seek to return to more normal life”.

But in order to avoid making the wrong choice when “resolving the inherent tensions between free expression and safety”, Facebook will turn to its oversight board, the arms-length self-regulator set up in May 2020, to decide on what the future moderation policy should be.

…By requesting an opinion, Facebook is not committing to honour the judgment issued by the board, prompting some to question whether the site was simply seeking cover for making a decision likely to be broadly unpopular with a large section of society whatever it chooses.


A good way to kick the topic into the long grass for three or four months at the minimum. By which time it should be clear whether Covid is still a substantial problem for Facebook’s most valuable users (in North America and Europe).
unique link to this extract

FTC sues Meta to block acquisition of VR fitness app maker Within • Financial Times

Dave Lee:


The US competition regulator is suing to block Meta from acquiring a virtual reality fitness start-up, accusing the social networking giant of “illegally” trying to “buy its way to the top” of the nascent metaverse sector.

The Federal Trade Commission’s case centres on a deal struck last year by Meta, formerly known as Facebook, to acquire Within, the creator of a popular virtual reality fitness game, Supernatural. The app is one of the most popular on Meta’s virtual reality system, Meta Quest. The amount of the transaction was not disclosed.

The FTC, led by Biden appointee and prominent Big Tech critic Lina Khan, has now moved to stop the takeover, accusing Meta of using its power to cement its dominant position in the growing market.

“Instead of competing on the merits, Meta is trying to buy its way to the top,” said John Newman, the competition regulator’s deputy director for competition.

“Meta already owns a best-selling virtual reality fitness app, and it had the capabilities to compete even more closely with Within’s popular Supernatural app. But Meta chose to buy market position instead of earning it on the merits. This is an illegal acquisition, and we will pursue all appropriate relief.”

…Meta said the FTC’s complaint was based on “ideology and speculation, not evidence”.

…“By attacking this deal in a 3-2 vote, the FTC is sending a chilling message to anyone who wishes to innovate in VR. We are confident that our acquisition of Within will be good for people, developers, and the VR space.”


Not forgetting that Meta is mad keen to do as much VR as it possibly can, so this block – orchestrated by Khan – will be extra galling.
unique link to this extract

Newspaper and magazine publishers are freaking out over soaring paper prices • Business Insider

Lara O’Reilly:


Publishers around the globe are drawing up worst-case scenario plans amid the soaring cost and scarcity of paper that threatens the future of their print newspapers and magazines.

Newsprint in the UK was priced at around 360 pounds ($426) per ton in the first quarter of 2021; now the price has almost doubled to around £710 ($841), said Rick Stunt, group paper director at DMG media, which prints The Daily Mail and dozens of regional titles. It represents a 40% premium on the historic high of £510 per ton, he said.

In the US, the price has risen by a similar percentage, to around $800 a ton, according to Stunt.

“These are big increases. We don’t usually get this over an 18-month period,” said Stunt. “In the past, really big increases were about 20 to 25%.”

As demand for paper declined over the last 20 to 30 years amid the digital revolution, paper mills across the world shut down. Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and the labour shortages and supply chain snafus that followed. Added to an already tight market, demand for cardboard packages soared amid the ecommerce boom. This year, rising inflation and ballooning energy costs have made an already bad situation worse for paper supply.

“From an industry perspective it’s a disaster because you’ve got no choice but to reduce the amount of pages you print, choose to increase your cover price, or a combination thereof — and that will reduce demand,” said an executive at the UK’s Daily Telegraph who said they were confident they could absorb the cost by passing on the price to subscribers.


Never rains but it pours for physical papers these days. The ad slowdown is coming too, and that has them very worried as well: a perfect storm to add to the one that has been ongoing for years now.
unique link to this extract

Google is bringing back Street View to India • Money Control

Vikas Sn:


Google announced on July 27 that it is relaunching Street View on Google Maps in India, more than a decade after the service was suspended in the country for failing to secure the requisite security clearances from the government.

This time around, the internet giant is partnering with two local firms – 3D mapping content and geospatial solutions firm Genesys International and IT services firm Tech Mahindra – to offer the service to Indian consumers.

Street View’s India rollout is the first time that Google has tied up with local partners to offer the service to consumers, a model it hopes to scale in other parts of the world as well.

Google said the service will initially be available in 10 cities including Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Nashik, Vadodara, Ahmednagar, and Amritsar with plans to expand it to more than 50 cities by the end of 2022.

Users will be able to access this feature by opening the Google Maps app, zooming into a road in any of these cities and tapping the area they want to see. The idea is to provide users with an experience as good as walking down the road on their desktop or mobile phone.

The company claims that it has licensed fresh imagery from its local partners spanning over 150,000 km across these ten cities. It also plans to offer Street View APIs to local developers to help them deliver richer mapping experiences in their services.

…Google, which typically collects street-level imagery for the service by itself through cars and bikes fitted with cameras, had to take the licensing route in India due to the country’s recent geospatial policy which requires that only local entities acquire, collect, store and own the imagery data.


Possibly saves it a ton of money not having to do all the scanning, and just licensing it. India’s approach to keeping its data at home is novel.
unique link to this extract

Crown court sentencing remarks to be televised for first time • The Guardian

Haroon Siddique:


The Old Bailey will be opened up to cameras on Thursday as sentencing remarks from a crown court case in England and Wales are broadcast for the first time.

The move, which comes after a change in the law, is intended to help the public get a better understanding of how sentencing decisions are taken. Previously, proceedings have only been broadcast at the supreme court (since its 2009 inauguration) and the court of appeal (since 2009).

Any crown court sentencing where cameras are allowed will be shown on a dedicated YouTube channel hosted by Sky News, which will have a 10-second delay for live proceedings to avoid any breach of restrictions or errors. Other broadcasters can also apply to broadcast sentencing remarks.

The sentencing at the Old Bailey of Ben Oliver, who pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of his grandfather, David Oliver, in south London, is expected to be the first case shown if the judge agrees.

The lord chancellor, Dominic Raab, said: “Opening up the courtroom to cameras to film the sentencing of some the country’s most serious offenders will improve transparency and reinforce confidence in the justice system. The public will now be able to see justice handed down, helping them understand better the complex decisions judges make.”


Certainly novel for this government to be interested in people understanding judges making complex decisions. As a reminder, the business secretary Kwasi Karteng once said “many people” thought judges were biased over Brexit; he wasn’t suggesting those people were wrong, either.
unique link to this extract

Monkeypox is in Bay Area wastewater • MIT Technology Review

Hana Kiros:


Last month, Stanford’s Sewer Coronavirus Alert Network, or SCAN, added monkeypox to the suite of viruses it checks wastewater for daily. Since then, monkeypox has been detected in 10 of the 11 sewer systems that SCAN tests, including those in Sacramento, Palo Alto, and several other cities in California’s Bay Area.

As of July 21, the US had recorded 2,593 monkeypox cases. Globally, the virus has been detected in 74 countries—68 of which have not historically reported monkeypox. On July 23, the WHO took the step of declaring the outbreak a global health emergency.

SCAN began to monitor California wastewater for Covid-19 in 2020. It’s the only public effort in the US to test if monkeypox is detectable in the shower, sink, and toilet water that is sent to wastewater treatment plants for decontamination. Extracting genetic material from the solids absorbed in raw, unprocessed sewage can provide a community-level look at where a virus or bacteria has spread, and how prevalent an outbreak is. 

Over the past two years, the concentration of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater has mirrored trends in Covid-19 cases confirmed by testing individuals. In late 2021, wastewater surveillance suggested the omicron variant was prevalent in the US much earlier than clinical testing reported.


Wastewater testing is an underrated technique, but the UK seems to be planning to scale it down.
unique link to this extract

M1 Mac Pro reportedly scrapped as Apple plans M2 push this autumn • MacWorld

Michael Simon:


[Bloomberg writer Mark] Gurman said Apple will be updating both the M1 Mac mini and the higher-end Intel version with M2 and M2 Pro chips, respectively, but doesn’t think the machines will have a redesign, as has been rumored. He said it would be “odd” for Apple to introduce a new Mac mini design following the launch of the Mac Studio. 

As for the long-awaited Mac Pro with Apple silicon, Gurman reveals that Apple planned to launch an M1-based Mac Pro “months ago” but “scrapped” it to work on a model with an M2. He doesn’t expect Apple to launch the high-end workstation until next year as a result of production and supply issues.

Finally, Gurman thinks Face ID on the Mac is a long way off. Despite the addition of the notch, he doesn’t expect it to come to the M2 MacBook Pro anytime soon. In fact, he thinks it’ll come to the higher-end iMac models first. That could come with the M3 iMac, since Gurman thinks Apple will skip the M2 chip in the all-in-one machine.


An M1-based Mac Pro did seem like an absolute shoo-in for a while, when the new M1 chips (Pro, Max, Ultra) were announced, but the introduction of the M2 made it absolutely obvious that there was no chance. Fairly sure that a specced-out Studio will do the job for most people in the meantime, since it’s far more powerful than anything that’s been out there for ages.
unique link to this extract

• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.