Facebook is predicting the end of the written word

The writing’s on the wall.
The writing’s on the wall.
Image: Reuters/Robert Galbraith
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Back when humans were first grappling with the impact of a new, global forum for communication, Clay Shirky, a prominent thinker in the digital sphere, made the persuasive argument that the internet made us more creative—even if only in a small way.

Indeed, Facebook has arguably made us all writers, since it has become the medium of choice for millions to share their views and life experiences. But in five years that creativity may look very different. Facebook is predicting the end of the written word on its platform.

In five years time Facebook “will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, who heads up Facebook’s operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, at a conference in London this morning. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has already noted that video will be more and more important for the platform. But Mendelsohn went further, suggesting that stats showed the written word becoming all but obsolete, replaced by moving images and speech.

“The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,”  Mendelsohn said. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”

In the room, there was a perceptible shifting—perhaps because the written word seems a rather major aspect of civilization to dispatch with so quickly. But it won’t disappear entirely, Mendelsohn assured the crowd: “You’ll have to write for the video.”

Facebook owns Instagram, one of the foremost online tools for sharing images. Asked about Snapchat, which focuses on sharing video, Mendelsohn said it was a very different business.

Of course, Facebook has algorithmically promoted video, so I asked Mendelsohn whether the company was pushing that shift away from text posts. She insisted the change is user-driven, an organic shift that was obvious by looking at the numbers.

Virtual reality will grow and 360 video will be “commonplace,” she said. ”We’re seeing a year-on-year decline of text…If I was having a bet I’d say: video, video, video.”