Facebook’s newest rejiggering has broken social boundaries

If your time is so valuable to Facebook, shouldn’t it be at least as valuable to you? — Jeff Bercovici

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source Tim Gouw / Unsplash

Facebook has fooled around with his basic model so much that average people are becoming discouraged, and posting less. This is a very dangerous trend for Zuckerberg and Co.

Jeff Bercovici, The Worst Thing That Could Happen to Facebook Is Already Happening

In the past few months, Facebook has quietly shifted into crisis mode. According to The Information, “original broadcast sharing” — i.e., posts consisting of users’ own words and images — fell 21 percent from 2014 to 2015, contributing to a 5.5 percent decrease in total sharing. In response, the company created a task force in London whose mission is to devise a strategy to stem the ebb and get people sharing again. Among the measures taken so far: a change in the News Feed algorithm that privileges original status updates over professional content like news links and viral videos, and Wednesday’s mishap-marred rollout of a new live-video-streaming feature.

It’s a stunning reversal of fortune for Facebook, whose strategic emphasis for the past few years has been on getting media companies and celebrities to put more of their premium content on Facebook. The better (read: more professional) the quality of what’s in your News Feed, the more advertisers would pay to be next to it, went the thinking.

That strategy now looks like a backfire. The more Facebook feels like a big stage, the less inviting it becomes to the sorts of people who aren’t comfortable performing in public — which is to say, most of us. You’ve probably noticed how the “friends” who show up in your News Feed most often aren’t the ones whose lives you’re most interested in but simply the ones who have a lot to say. According to confidential data obtained by The Information, more than 60 percent of users share no personal content in a given week, while the remaining 39 percent share an average of five posts.

I haven’t looked at the data, but my analysis is that they’ve broken the social scale of Facebook. FB was originally about you and your social scene, the 150± folks that you want to know about, and who want to know about you. Who you made out with, where you were, what you ate, your hopes and dreams, and theirs.

Now, in pursuit of greater monetization and scale, FB has handed over control to algorithms that aren’t attempting to make your experience of social scenes more collegial, fun, and fluid: they are pushing stuff into your stream to make money, and unless your friends are paying, their stuff might not ever get to you. They’ve opened up your social scene to updates from an imaginary sphere: a larger world you might be part of, maybe, but one that is filled with information not coming from your friends or you.

Facebook’s newest rejiggering has broken our social boundaries, another sort of social crowding (see The Rise of Work Chat Anti-Hype for a discussion of social crowding in Slack).

And can they put it back together again?

Jeff Bercovici ends with this bit of social algebra, wondering if the juice is worth the squeeze:

The massive decline in personal sharing is a sign that large numbers of people have started to figure out that the value they get out of Facebook is a lot less than the value they put in. For a service that’s increasingly just an arbitrage on the human attention span, that’s a dangerous epiphany. Ask yourself: If your time is so valuable to Facebook, shouldn’t it be at least as valuable to you?

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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