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Q and A with Fidji Simo — Head of the Facebook App — Collision 2021

Fidji Simo was promoted to Head of the Facebook App back in March 2019. Since then, she has become one of the most influential women in the company. Responsible for the core Facebook product, which has nearly 3 billion users, Simo oversees the development and strategy of the app, which includes News Feed, Stories, Groups, Video, Marketplace, Gaming, News, Dating and advertisement.

Prior to her current role, Simo was a Vice President in charge of monetisation, video and games at Facebook. She managed a team of more than 700 product managers and engineers focused on building new tools and features for Facebook users. Simo is currently serving on the board of Women in Product, a non-profit organisation that strives to empower women in product management — no matter what their career level — and advocates for equal representation. They hold an annual conference each year, allowing women entrepreneurs, business owners and product leaders to connect.

At the opening of the Collision 2021 conference, viewers were delighted to here from Fidji Simo. The talk largely centred around the future of the Facebook app and how it will continue to be relevant to social media users around the globe. With technology advancing as fast as it has, spurred on by the onset of Covid-19 bringing with it a more intense need than ever to keep users in contact, there has been an interesting return to pure audio. Facebook intends to launch a purely audio-based space on the main Facebook app, where other additions, for example, Facebook market place have been so well received.


First off, this isn't an entirely unique return to audio. With Clubhouse already hosting audio chatrooms, one question that was brought up by interviewer Kurt Wagner (Bloomberg) was for a response to the popular notion that Facebook tends to ride the coattails of other apps when venturing into so far unexplored territory with social media. Fidji Simo was strong on her stance that Facebook's new audio destination would have several unique features such as soundbites (small clips of recordings), and the ability to record live conversations to convert into podcasts at a later date. This would be what sets them apart, as well as the fact that Facebook users already have large communities, groups and networks that can be utilised with this addition to allow greater exposure at a faster pace. While there have been audio methods of communication and entertainment for years, they are largely desperate with no real way to connect them, and soundbites haven't really received as much attention, with most people tending to view small video clips instead. 

However, with Facebook's new audio destination, it would collect all of the methods for audio communication and entertainment in one destination allowing for easy editing and swapping between the different methods. A live broadcast can become a podcast that can be broken down into individual soundbites and dispersed through already established Facebook communities. Simo expressed her love for podcasts as a fantastic way to learn and revealed her personal favourite was Bio Eats World which focuses on conversations between scientists, examining how bio is going to fundamentally transform our future.

The idea with 'special audio' is to 'reproduce the experience of having people in a room with you'. The team aims to make people feel as though this is real life. The feature includes surround sound and noise-cancelling, which can be used in both recordings and/or when you are sat in a public space and want to 'tune out the background noise'. It's an immersive feature that will hopefully capture the feeling of being in a room with 'all those that are part of the conversation'. It is a product born out of the pandemic— with many companies interacting online this year via Zoom calls— this feature could prove invaluable to those working remotely, for example. The team deserve some credit for their creativity in coming up with a brilliant idea during a time of uncertainty.


Of course, another factor that would be brought up is how this feature would be monetised and would that potentially take away from the experience. Fidji stated that this is being developed with content creators in mind thus being easily monetised via donations and digital packages, however, as of yet there is no real mention of getting advertisements involved with the project, although she did mention possibly seeing this as a future development for the update. In addition to this, Facebook has had a no fee policy for content creators during the pandemic, to help spread and popularise content on a wider free scale.

With the mention of live audio performances, of course moderation quickly became a topic of the interview, with fears over how would this new update be able to censor and delete content containing hate speech, promoting violence, and other 'undesirable' content. The answer seems to be a multi-tiered system making use of Facebook's— as well as other technology companies'—investment into speech-to-text technology. This would convert content into text which could be run through an A.I system to identify prohibited content. On top of this, there will be a moderation team helping to stop the spread of hate speech, attempting to react immediately to any issues. Finally, the reporting function that Facebook has is as important as ever in Fidji's eyes; there is a great need for communities to speak up and report inappropriate content to stop its spread.

As the Q&A was drawing to a close, Kurt Wagner asked Fidji Simo a couple of questions on leadership and her opinion on creativity, as Simo is known to possess inherent creative talents. For Simo, creativity is 'present in every aspect of her life'— in both her work and her spare time— and on Saturday's she sculpts magic wands with her daughter. As a mother and a businesswoman, Simo wants to inspire her daughter and creative thinkers across the globe to 'use the magic that's inside of them'; to network and build connections with people to share their ideas. One positive change she has noticed during her time as a board member of Women in Product is the emergence of such communities where women can lift each other up. Women in Product originally started as a 'series of dinners between senior women in the product industry' but has steadily evolved into a community of peers who support one another. Open conversations are happening between men and women alike on how best to support female creators and female-led businesses.

Co-written and edited by:

Jack Glidewell 
Senior Editor, Writer and Podcaster at Social Songbird
A self-taught writer and news enthusiast, with a deep love for new and exciting developments around the globe. Aspiring Novel writer and traditional and pop Japanese culture lover.

Megan Howe 
Editor, Writer and Podcaster at Social Songbird
A recent BA English graduate with experience in writing, acting and editing. Bit of a bookworm; a lover of Shakespeare and all things theatre

Q and A with Fidji Simo — Head of the Facebook App — Collision 2021 Reviewed by Megan Howe on Thursday, April 22, 2021 Rating: 5

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