As of today, The Rockville Central will move all its content onto Facebook. The American community newssite has chosen to use the social network as its only portal to reach readers, illustrating just how central Facebook is becoming in people’s lives.
You can read the Rockville Central here – even if you are not logged into Facebook. The news items are appearing on the site the same way as posts, and people can comment underneath.
The Rockville Central is probably not the most hardcore news source out there, meaning Facebook might not be too unsuitable to use to reach people. But it still raises a few questions of how we want to access news.
Private v public space
One ambivalent user wrote: “This issue for me is that Facebook has always been a personal space that I use to interact with friends in my most personal voice. I don’t really like having updates from one of my news sources now woven in among my ongoing conversations with friends. Not a matter of privacy, but of having one “mental space” now intruded on by another domain.”
Twitter has long been used to distribute links to news content, but Twitter is not a “friends and family” space like Facebook. Most people reserve Facebook for people they know, meaning having numerous news items splashed down their feed might not be in the spirit of things. But you can see why journalists might like it better than Twitter: you can write more than 140 characters as a description, and there’s room for a picture. Not to mention how Facebook, with more than 1.5 million members, appears to have a much broader demographic reach than Twitter – the readers of the Rockville Central are probably already mostly on Facebook, but the same might not be said for Twitter.
With more than 30 billion pieces of content already shared on Facebook each month, according to the company, the site has all the potential for becoming a go-to site for information. But so far the process has been mostly organic, with people posting things they find interesting rather than news organisations using Facebook specifically.
Hosting your own ads is one obstacle for taking a newspaper to Facebook. This isn’t a problem for the Rockville Central, which focuses mostly on civic engagement, but will certainly be an issue for others. Said editor Cindy Cotte Griffiths as Rockville announced the move to Facebook:
“Facebook is where people, by and large, have decided to go for their first-stop online community activities. Which begs the question: Why have a separate site, and try to drag people away from Facebook? Why not go where they are?”
The existing website for Rockville Central will continue to exist with its current content, but there will be no new posts on that site, said the editor.
The interesting thing now will be whether others will follow suit. Using social media as the gateway to the internet has long been a trend in internet behaviour, but this has mostly been in terms of following links from Facebook et al onto other sites.
The Rockville Central takes things one step further. Reading your paper on Facebook may be perfect if you’re one of those who love to comment on stories, and it may be great for news providers wanting to keep close tabs on those ‘likes’. It’s too early to say if this will start a trend, but the big question is whether this is a change we want to see.