I was just reading this insightful article on Fast Company on how the recent algorithm changes by Facebook are going to affect marketers and publishers. In conclusion, the writer says that we are going to have a much narrow worldview because if all we can see are the updates from family and friends, we are not going to get different worldviews, the sort of worldviews that we get from professional publications like Fast Company, New York Times, Washington Post and such.
Although I’m cynical about these publications, especially New York Times and Washington Post, this does make sense. I have never been in favour of personalized content aggregation, whether it is on Google or some media streaming app. For example, it’s quite annoying if YouTube and Netflix suggest me to watch certain videos because I have been watching certain videos in the past. This constricts my exploration instinct.
If I’m constantly watching suggested videos, how am I going to find different videos and how my taste is going to evolve? The same goes with music websites. They shouldn’t confine my content discovery based on the sort of songs I have been listening. They should leave it on me how I find the songs I want to listen to.
The biggest example of this nuisance is add retargeting. The moment you visit a website its ads begin to appear no matter where you go. For example, recently I visited Survey Monkey and now whenever I go, I see the ridiculous pop up showing the ad video. In this process, I’m unable to discover other opportunities that otherwise I would have discovered had I not been bombarded by my “browsing history” intelligence?
But I can also understand Facebook’s point of view. The social networking website is mostly for family and friends. When professional publications and businesses start promoting their content aggressively, only the sky is the limit unless some restrictions are put. If they can have their way, you will only see updates from commercial publishers and business plans and you will hardly be able to see updates from family and friends.
I also beg to differ from the author’s opinion that if we only see updates from family and friends our worldview is going to be limited. Realistically, “friends” on Facebook doesn’t actually mean the sort of friendly circle we used to have a decade ago. All sorts of people become our friends. I’m quite politically opinionated on Twitter and many people befriend me on Facebook for my political views. Many befriend me even if they don’t have the same political views as I have. So when they are posting contrary content, I’m getting a different point of view.
Of course a big chunk of Facebook users might not be political writers and they might not get friends from diverse backgrounds but then in a family it doesn’t matter that everybody is going to have the same political and social views.
Another point I may like to make here is that not everybody gets updates from commercial publications. I don’t remember when the last time I received an interesting link from one of the publications Facebook pages I have followed. Most of the information and pieces of opinions I find on Facebook come from individual contacts on Facebook.
From publishers’ point of view this may have an impact as the writer says in the article that professional publications have seen their traffic from Facebook coming down by a whopping 40% recently. But from a user’s point of view, I don’t think it is going to kill diversity of opinion in a big way.