This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.
Facebook is going to make you love its short video format called Reels whether you like it or not.
Miniature and repetitive videos started on Instagram in 2020 as an outright copycat of TikTok, the most popular app then and now. If you haven’t noticed Reels yet, you will soon.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, said this week that it will show Reels in more places in its apps. Reels also take prime real estate at the top of the screen when people open the Facebook app. Maybe soon we’ll see used car reels listed on the Facebook version of Craigslist.
Shoving reels into our eyeholes is kinda sad, kinda brilliant — and worth watching as a test of Facebook’s ability to become popular. Leveraging success to become more successful is how dominant companies win — and it’s worked for Facebook before — but it’s also how dominant companies lose.
Facebook could be the most interesting tech story to watch in 2022. The company could be on the cusp of the final days of an empire or about to reinvent itself once again and become even more popular and wealthy.
We may not want to admit it, but the fate of Facebook and its strategies concerns us all. This company’s choices about which features to prioritize influence how billions of people interact, how companies reach their customers, and how the rest of the Internet looks.
Reels is a critical part of Facebook’s strategy to stave off the company’s worst fears of losing its appeal to young people and shrinking into irrelevance. Facebook wants some of that TikTok freshness, and it’s made its own version of this app for Instagram.
It’s unclear whether Reels is a particularly effective TikTok impersonator, but that might not matter.
Facebook said Reels is spreading and users of its apps are increasing the time they spend with videos more than almost anything else. The company has expanded Reels from Instagram to the Facebook app and now to more places within those apps and in more countries. The company is also experimenting with financial incentives to get more professional internet artists to create reels.
We can’t really know for sure how popular Reels are or why. Do people cling to Reels because they love them or because they’re just the? Google recently said that videos from its own version of TikTok, YouTube Shorts, are viewed 15 billion times every day. The number is so big that I didn’t believe it at first, but I should have. Google has billions of users, and it’s a great asset to draw attention to new things.
Maybe Facebook’s versions of TikTok, Zoom or Nextdoor aren’t great, but the company has plenty of ways to nudge the billions of people using its apps to try them out. The company can see what people seem to like and dislike, tinker with it, and keep improving a new – and inevitable – product until it settles.
That’s pretty much what Facebook did about five years ago with Stories, its copy of the most popular feature on Snapchat. Facebook experimented with video and photo chronicles of people’s days on Instagram and prominently featured them in company apps, and then they won.
The playbook for Reels looks nearly identical, and Facebook execs basically told investors, hey, we got the stories going, and we’ll do that with Reels too. Putting muscle behind new products isn’t foolproof for Facebook. It’s not even the company’s first attempt to copy TikTok.
Following the leads of other tech companies doesn’t make Facebook look inventive, although that doesn’t matter. Silicon Valley’s history is marked by companies that didn’t necessarily make a product first or the best, but made it the greatest.
But the recent rise of startups like TikTok and e-commerce star Shopify may be proof that inventive newbies can take advantage of heavy tech superpowers.
That’s what makes Facebook so appealing to watch. A Big Tech superpower can put all its muscle into staying on top, or it can wither away in front of us.
Tip of the week
Automate your path to energy savings
Brian X. Chenthe consumer technology columnist for The New York Times, has some helpful ways to cut your electric bill — and maybe force you to quit mindless surfing on your laptop.
For a recent column, I tested energy-saving technologies to combat soaring gas and electric bills. I concluded that things like the Nest Thermostat were helpful, but they cut my home energy bill less than old-fashioned upgrades like installing proper insulation and sealing leaks. ‘air.
Still, anything you can do to avoid wasting energy is worth it. One way to simplify things is to set a schedule for turning off electrical appliances in the home so that they use less energy.
Some believe that putting a computer into sleep mode saves more energy than shutting it down because of the amount of energy needed to wake it up. But it’s a myth: the Department of Energy recommends turning off the device if you won’t be using it for more than two hours.
Here’s how to do it with a Mac computer, a Windows PC, and a Switch.
On a Mac, you can schedule the computer to shut down at a certain time each day. I’m trying to finish work at dinner time, so I opened the computer’s System Preferences app, found the “Power Saver” option, then clicked “Battery” and “Schedule” . There, I checked the box to turn off my computer every day at 6 p.m.
To schedule the lights to turn off, you can purchase an internet-connected lighting product such as the Kasa smart light switch from TP-Link. TP-Link’s app has settings to set the lights to turn on and off at certain times.
The new weapons of war: As Russia prepared to attack Ukraine, cyberattacks took the websites of some Ukrainian government agencies and banks offline. Researchers too noted that they discovered malware that erases data from hundreds of computers in Ukraine.
Related: Russian companies may be able to use cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin to circumvent international bans on financial transactions meant to punish Russia for invading Ukraine, report my colleagues Emily Flitter and David Yaffe-Bellany . Additionally, cryptocurrency prices fell on Thursday. When the world is unstable, investors tend to sell assets considered high risk.
“Anything uncomfortable and potentially dangerous on the internet can seem so much more powerful in virtual reality,” Bloomberg News editor Naomi Nix said after having a disturbing encounter with Facebook’s Quest virtual reality headset.
Football teams appeal to nerds: My colleague Rory Smith writes that the quiet hiring of a data scientist by a German football team shows that the sport is embracing data analytics to assess player skills.
Hugs to that
Watching the war unfold in Ukraine is painful. If you need a dose of cheer, especially today, may I recommend checking out these glorious photos of celebrity pug Noodle wearing a colorful sweater. They are from a few months ago, but I’m ok with that.