I spend less and less time on Facebook. So I’m on Twitter. I saw a tweet recently that encapsulates the total fail of modern news feeds:
“Here’s an outrageous algorithm idea, bear with me: a feed that shows you posts made by people you follow, in the order they were posted.” (https://twitter.com/BOKHOOTOS/status/953398351810187266)
Facebook and Twitter etc. are all glorified fancy RSS feeds. Back in the day, Google Feed Reader and other desktop RSS readers would provide you with an easy way to check out new posts from your favourite sources. You could see if other people had shared or blogged about sources using a variety of sites and scripts, for example Bloglines or Technorati. We used Waypath to keep an eye on who shared our blogposts. It was a bit cumbersome, but, it worked. You weren’t plagued by useless ads, annoying dumbed-down posts from what would in the past have been referred to as the gossip columns. Big business wasn’t interfering with your user experience.
Algorithms were in their infancy. If you used iGoogle news (another multiple feed based interface system), you might have noticed their baby steps to interfere with how you saw news feed posts – if you’d had a moment of weakness and clicked on that item about Michael Jackson, you paid the price by then being subjected to increasing amounts of other gossip news that you had zero interest in. It was annoying, people didn’t like it.
Fast forward to today. Facebook, when directly compared to Twitter – and assuming you are an educated and sentient human – provides stark contrast: the banal with the intelligent, the facile with the interesting. Sure, we still live in bubbles of shared values, I believe that’s a completely natural behaviour and nothing new, it’s broadcast media’s job to break that bubble, as ‘everyone’ is exposed to that. But the steady drip drip of meaningless sludge you increasingly must wade through in order to find something of interest on Facebook is pushing people away.
The kids got bored with Facebook a while ago, probably when it was still fairly interesting to us grown ups. Maybe they were told they wanted infantile immediate self entitled gratification like Instagram or Snapchat. But Snapchat is dying. And now we are leaving Facebook too. In the end, no matter what The Facebook does to utilise its vast big data resource, it won’t work. Simple things work. The ‘most recent’ feed works, that’s what we want, that’s what we’ve always wanted. We don’t want too many sponsored ads or posts, we don’t mind a few, a few. Maybe big data needs to heed this persistent signal that all their analysis and interpretation makes no difference to ordinary human behaviour. Let’s hope so.
Finally: if you are on The Facebook, keep it trivial or very dumbed down. Those posts get the most likes and comments, so you can stay in everyone’s feed the longest and annoy the hell out of them.