Facebook users are seeing too much content in their Newsfeed. This is a problem because the stuff they want to see is lost amongst the stuff they don’t. Changing Newsfeed is an attempt to rectify that. But the solution addresses the problem’s consequences instead of it’s causes. It’s a bandaid, not a cure.
What if the answer were to get users to do less instead of showing them less? It sounds counter-intuitive, but hear us out.
If Facebook is Dr Frankenstein, then Newsfeed is his monster and the lightning strikes that bring it to life are the Users. This analogy is shaky (who are the fork-wielding villagers? Is Twitter the torch they brandish? Where does Mary Shelley fit into all of this?) but it holds long enough to illustrate the tricky situation Facebook is in.
Their users have maxed out their own capacity and are up in arms over their inability to handle the quantity of content they’ve asked the system to provide them with. They are engorged and don’t like it, but can’t stop eating.
To risk another analogy, it’s the equivalent of a diner complaining to their waiter that the rich desert is making them feel sick as they order yet another portion.
Fancy a mint, Mr Creosote?
In social platforms, as in restaurants, the customer is right, no matter how wrong they might be. Facebook needs to solve the problem regardless of its origins. They don’t need a stomach clamp: they need a lesson in nutrition.*
1500 pieces of content are being shown to the average Facebook member. An hour a day on the service averages out to 25 pieces of content a minute. More likes, shares, photos, videos and status updates to acknowledge, sort, absorb and engage with than any reasonable human being could tolerate.
Facebook’s adaptations to how Newsfeed works might show greater engagement but it’s not a transparent fix (although they’re trying to improve that too). What if Facebook encourages users to reduce the clutter and start unliking? Voluntarily downscaling. A routine pruning. Fussiness.
The big blue thumb could have their cake and eat it. It doesn’t necessarily mean users would be likely to spend less time on the platform. Why would they, if they were getting more of what they like? If likes are harder to come by it puts more pressure on the advertisers to earn the attention. More emphasis on the quality of content means everyone wins. Of course, this only works if everyone buys in: Facebook, the users and the brands.
Facebook is in the business of selling an attentive and willing audience. If we’ve over-shot capacity we are neither.
Mark Zuckerberg spoke about wanting to be the ultimate personalised newspaper when announcing the Newsfeed redesign. But a great newspaper is run by a publisher and editor making sure they give the audience what it wants, even if the audience doesn’t know what that is. Is that Facebook’s role or yours?
Changes to Newsfeed have their motivations in the right place: a desire to improve the users’ experiences. Attention also needs to be paid to empowering the user to make that reality happen themselves. Not only creating user-friendly tools to make this possible, but educating users on their application.
* This is the point where the analogies fall to bits**
** Possibly brought down by cake throwing villagers.