Facebook is "basically unbundling the big blue app," Mark Zuckerberg told The New York Times' Farhad Manjoo this morning. Rejoice, Facebook users, that means it will be way easier to ignore, unfollow, and defriend your annoying connections.
The "Great Unbundling," as GigaOm puts it, signals that the future of Facebook is less in its main app than in smaller, more specifically-focused apps. Rather than a one-stop shop for networking, you might use Messenger just for chatting and Instagram for sharing images. With the addition of WhatsApp and other breakaway features, you might be a regular Facebook customer without ever visiting the main site again.
In the Times interview, Zuckerberg explains that unbundling breaks into three separate tiers. At the top is the main app of Facebook, a heavyweight business. Below that rests a number of apps just entering adolescence, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Search. "These are use cases that people use a lot, and they will probably be the next things that will become businesses at Facebook," Zuckerberg told the Times. "But you want to fast-forward three years before that will actually be a meaningful thing."
And then at the least developed end are "nascent" apps like Home and Paper, which have a ways to go before reaching wider use. "Maybe in three to five years those will be in the stage where Instagram and Messenger are now," Zuckerberg notes. But it's unfair to compare across tiers as of now. "It would be a mistake to compare any of them in different life cycles to other ones. They’re in different levels."
The Verge's Ellis Hamburger argues that the segmenting has almost become necessary, in part because of Facebook's monumentally fast growth. After all these years online, Facebook "friends" are essentially a who's who of everyone you've ever met, from college buddies to co-workers to first dates, many of whom have fallen by the wayside friendship-wise. "My Friends list went from a roster of my current friends to a collection of everyone I’ve met in the last 10 years — a social group too massive to feel urgent, and too broad to share with on a daily basis," Hamburger writes. As a result, the News Feed — the collection of updates coming from every one of those people — has become an unwieldy mess.
To combat that, Facebook made its Unfollow button much more prominent last December, which moves that friend's post out of the feed without unfriending. Since that time, Unfollows have tripled, Facebook told The Verge.
On the unbundled apps, too, there is a growing sense that a smaller social network is better. On Instagram, follows only go one-way, and Messenger and WhatsApp only include people you are actively in conversation with. That means you can actively choose who to follow, and you can see interesting photos from people whose relationships don't interest you. Facebook's new resolution: the fewer the merrier.
Zuckerberg's comments give some deeper context to the changes made to the News Feed that Facebook announced last week. Gone are meme photos, spammy links, and like-baiting, replaced by the prominence of larger photos and better news sources (like The Wire!). Because users have so many friends, Facebook has spent its resources developing algorithms that show you only the most meaningful bits of content. The hope is that, by unbundling some of the distractions and putting that power of what you see in the hands of users, Facebook can refine that strategy even more, and focus on building businesses, instead of editing content.