In the early days of the internet it was pretty simple — publish a site and it was done. With social media user generated content became the norm and the amount of data exploded. In the opinion of the big social networks it apparently is too much for the majority of users to handle.
It’s difficult for users to adequately curate their own feeds. Most people just follow their friends. And increasingly, content is not easily searchable text, but rather photos and videos, which can only be organized by titles, hashtags, and geotags. This makes it very difficult to organize.
— nymag.com, The Feed Is Dying
Facebook switched to an algorithm curated feed years ago. Twitter and Instagram started to experiment with automatically curated feeds, too. There are different implications by this, though.
The promise of these curated feeds is that it’s easier to find the content that matters to you. The unimportant things will be filtered out. Nothing will be missed. The theory actually sounds nice.
But who in the world knows about my preferences? Social networks can only draw conclusions on the actions I do on their network — or on sites with a share button if not blocked. Clicking like, sharing something or leaving a comment. Maybe even the time spent without scrolling. But what if I was just getting a cup of tea?
Social networks need to make money. One way is to place ads, but that’s not enough. When an algorithm curated feed takes over they can make people pay that their own posts appear in someone else's feed — the core functionality of these networks. These algorithms don’t work in the best interest of the user but instead to make more money.
The idea of Facebook's algorithm is to make corporations pay for attention. That’s why it is such an illogical, in-transparent, boring mess.
– iA Inc.
Consuming is free. Creating is free up to a point. After that: pay, please!
The Filter Bubble
Ranking the posts a user interacted with higher leeds to a filter bubble. This means that posts visited in the past will influence the future posts one will get to see. Also factors like political orientation, sexual preferences and many other influence the automatic selection of posts for the feed to show.
The Wall Street Journal released a nice visualization on what Facebook looks like for different political opinions searching the same topics. See Blue Feed, Red Feed for a filter bubble in action. This is a big issue.
How shall people find a compromise or get other points of views when all they get is the same opinion they already have? It strengths their point of view and makes people resist to differing opinions mentioned by others.
I’d argue that these horrible events called Pegida (racist movement in Germany) are in part caused by the filter bubble. How else come that a few thousand people think “Wir sind das Volk”? They never hear other stories than their own. And if, they say it's a lie because they read the truth from the others.
I really hope there will be simple, unfiltered platforms in the future.
At one point my filter bubbled Facebook feed consisted almost only of links to The Onion and Der Postillon (a german version of The Onion). So instead of going to Facebook, I just browsed these two sites directly. Over time that changed my feed and nowadays it’s a bit more mixed in the things I get to see.
But why the hell should I be interested in some photos of a stranger to me that a friend of me liked? I’m seeing random people do random stuff — not interested!
I really miss the personal aspect of the Facebook of former times. Nowadays the Facebook feed is totally worthless for me. If the platform didn’t have that events section, I would’ve gone a long time ago.
I’d better call my friends to ask what they’ve been up to.