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Why Building a Web Business Built on Facebook Is So Scary

You win! You lose! If your job is dependent on Facebook traffic, you're never going to rest easy.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Another installment from the “Facebook Giveth, Facebook Taketh Away” story that all Web publishers are following with intense interest:

Below is a chart of Gawker’s U.S. traffic, courtesy of editor Max Read. That first peak, from June, was the site’s third-best month. The peak on the right, from August, indicates that this month will be Gawker’s second-best month.

But since you’ve already read the first sentence of this post, you know what happened to create that giant traffic valley in July.

Read spells it out in his post: For most of the year, Facebook represented about a third of Gawker’s referral traffic. In July, it dropped down to 24 percent.

Read and his co-workers think that this is the result of some algorithm changes Facebook made in May. But just like everyone else on the Web who doesn’t work at 1 Hacker Way, they can only guess at what those changes are. Even when Facebook announces it is making changes, it doesn’t do a whole lot to explain what it’s really doing and why.

So as always, if you’re a Web publisher that’s dependent on Facebook for a significant portion of your traffic, the best you can do is keep your eyes and ears open and try to figure out how to adapt to Facebook’s changes as quickly as possible — and if you’re lucky, find a giant hit that can help bring that Facebook traffic back. (Depending on your age, you have seen this movie before, back when Facebook used to be called Google.)

What’s that? You think you’ve got a relationship with Mark or Sheryl or someone else there that’s going to protect you? Ask the folks at Zynga, who used to represent a third of Facebook’s revenue.

Speaking of changes: Get ready to see a new set of Facebook publishers that see big and mysterious traffic boosts in the near future, as Facebook rolls out its autoplaying video. Video itself is hard for most Web publishers to understand, and Facebook’s version of it, which essentially turns all clips into silent movies (there’s no audio until a user clicks), will require a whole new approach for many folks.

Example: This one just showed up in my feed, courtesy of someone named Krafty Kuts, who I don’t know but someone I know knows, I guess. Since Mr. Kuts posted it two days ago, it has generated a Buzzfeed-like 8,547 shares, which makes a sort of sense: If you see this in your feed even with the sound off, you’re definitely going to watch it for a minute. And then, depending on your sense of humor, you may share it.

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