Remember when all of your friends had a blog? They used Blogger or Live Journal or Xanga, and shared long-form content. Then Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) launched, and short-form updates made blogs obsolete.
But blogging is having a bit of a comeback. Teens are using blogs (and other social media) as digital diaries, or to post essays. The launch of Tumblr and Medium have kept the long-form status update alive. Most notably, those properties aren't owned by Facebook, which means people have to leave the social network when someone posts a link to their latest blog post. For Facebook, that's less than desirable.
So it's relaunching Notes
Notes was the original status update on Facebook. Before 2009, users could only post 160 characters. That expanded to 420 characters in 2009, and quickly expanded from 500 characters in 2011 to 60,000 a few months later. By then, however, users were so used to posting status updates of any length that notes had been largely discarded.
Relaunching Notes now is interesting considering the resurgence in blogging. The new format first spotted by developer Dave Winer looks like Medium's clean, full-width, uber-legible website.
Facebook gives everyone a built-in audience automatically, but still offers the option to keep things private or just between select friends. It's easy to tag people because everyone's on Facebook. Users can include tags for their content to push it into the public feed, which could result in a similar user experience to Medium. (Medium uses a mechanism similar to Tumblr, where authors tag their blogs with certain topics, and users can browse essays by topic.)
Additionally, Facebook can offer the same benefits to individuals as it does publishers it partners with for Instant Articles. Notes will load instantly, resulting in more people actually reading the content.
Facebook isn't doing this to be nice
Facebook also has a lot of potential to benefit from a popular blogging platform. For one, the more content it hosts on its site, the more time users will spend on Facebook. That means advertisers will spend more on its site due to supply and demand. (Even if Facebook doesn't insert ads into Notes, there's less supply from other websites if Facebook increases time spent on its site.)
Additionally, Facebook can gather a heck of a lot more data on its users from long-form essays than it can from short-form status updates and photos. It already has some of the best data on personality and interests based on the things its users like, share, comment, and post. Additionally, it continues to improve its ability to scrape data from photos and videos as well as text. But getting users to post more words directly to Facebook could give it a more well-rounded profile of its users, which can lead to better ad targeting, or the ability for Facebook to enter other verticals.
Twitter is going long form, too
Facebook isn't the only company interested in reviving long-form content. Twitter co-founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone started Medium to give Twitter users the ability to write more long-form articles. The platform is well-integrated with Twitter, with similar sharing mechanisms.
More recently, Twitter opened its direct message feature to allow users to send up to 10,000 characters. Indeed, Twitter has been working to move away from the 140-character limit that was originally put in place due to text-message limitations. It added photos and video and other rich content, but it doesn't have the same capabilities as Facebook to understand what those media say about the users posting them. Text is much easier for computers to understand.
Some of the best content on Twitter is posted directly to the platform, but more often people link to content outside of Twitter. As more people pick up long-form content, Twitter risks losing the attention of those users to other websites, even if they find the content via Twitter. That's the fate Facebook is working to avoid, and it's something Twitter ought to consider, as well.