Is Facebook Trying to Become a Content Network?

Are you also seeing this message on your Facebook account?:

Apply to be a beta tester and get the first look at upcoming Facebook products.

After clicking through, you’re presented with a page titled “Help us build the future of Facebook.” There’s some description about the “launch of a brand new product to the world” and how you can apply to be a beta tester.

Normally I’d ignore something like this, but what Facebook is proposing is too fascinating to pass up: a chance for my writing to be seen by “tens of millions of people — including job recruiters” as well as a visit to the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto (where my awesome sister Blair lives).

Too good to be true? How about an attempt to exploit masses of struggling, web-savvy writers? Hmmm… To be considered for “exclusive beta access” you have to submit on the page a question and its answer about something interesting that you’re familiar with. They provide a sample question you can reference for editorial guidance. I scrapped my first question/answer—How close can you get to molten lava?—in favor of this one:

In surfing, what’s the difference between a longboard and a shortboard? With respect to length, longboards are generally nine feet or more and shortboards range between five and seven feet.

Longboards are also wider in the nose and tail, which gives them more stability and flotation for quicker paddling and easier wave catching. These factors make them for ideal for learning how to surf.

Shortboards are designed for maximum speed and maneuverability through turns. They require more responsiveness from the rider and therefore deliver more performance than longboards.

Variations in wave size and shape as well as surf conditions often dictate which boards are being used at a particular break. It’s easier to catch a wave that’s small, slow and mildly-sloped on a longboard than it is on its compact counterpart.

On the flip side, you’d fare much better on a shortboard if the wave you’re riding has a steep take-off with quick and hollow sections. There’s an entire culture and science built around surfing and surfboard design. You can learn much more by checking out Surfline’s surfology at


It’s been submitted and I’ll basically forget about it, unless I get magically chosen for “exclusive access.” Then things might get interesting. That “including job recruiters” phrase concerns me.

It’s feels like Facebook is dangling a carrot in front of enterprising writers while indicating they won’t be directly compensated in any way (like a job) for their efforts. Fair enough, but this “opportunity” could mean Facebook is attempting to leverage an army of volunteer writers who can quickly produce a massive cache of quality content.

They can then contextually match that content with any of their tens of millions of users. See where this is leading? For example, anyone talking about surfboards on Facebook might see a link to my little write up. Or maybe they find the page (ranked high) in Google.

Either way, they’ll get to the page which will inevitably be monetized with Facebook ads. Owning socially-endorsed content on one of the world’s largest websites/ad networks sounds like a goldmine to me. Not just for Facebook but their opportunistic advertisers as well.

But there are issues: they absolutely must establish strict editorial control from the start or they’ll end up like Yahoo! Answers or worse yet, Mahalo.

The other and perhaps bigger issue is where does this leave the hard working niche bloggers? Wouldn’t it be easier to find what you need in your favorite, trusty all-consuming Facebook account than to go out and seek multiple bloggers with varying degrees of answers? If there’s any truth to this, then bloggers are in for a Mega-Challenge. They need to be well-poised not just creatively or editorially but as powerful publisher brands with nimble content.

And that’s not such a bad thing.

Image from benstein.