By Rudolf Melik
Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social sites designed on the following/follower model are becoming more and more like an old fashioned cable TV channel. Today’s social media ecosystem is a mess of wanted and unwanted content sprinkled with a whole bunch of ads in between.
Users tune into the Facebook channel and get bombed with, “I Like Me” posts, wanna-be philosophers, selfie lovers, endless birthdays and congratulations, and photos of all kinds from everywhere and anywhere. Once they change the channel to Twitter, there are literally a 1,000 new tweets since the last login and none of the tweets are really what anyone wants to read about right now. Change the channel to LinkedIn and the feed is full of content by connections, promoting themselves or their wares or more sponsored content including content by advertisers.
All of these social apps are based on a variation of the following workflow where individuals first connect, friend, like or follow others on the platform. From that point forward, the activities of a “friend” or connection appear in the user’s feed, which becomes a mix of ads and content. Facebook has implemented an engagement algorithm to reduce the content seen by users, but the concept is the same. Users are always able to pay Facebook to sponsor content to get into more feeds.
Now that is all fine if a user is connected to a handful of people, but not so much if that user is connected to 20 or more. The feed quickly becomes unmanageable, which is why Facebook and other social networks are trying to solve this problem by adding an unfollow (unlike) feature that reduces the feed spam and lets members stay connected. However, this is like putting a bandage on a broken leg. The Follow model itself is inherently flawed.
As a social media user myself, I follow 80 people on Twitter, and after a few hours, at times, there are 200 new Tweets. There is no way I can even look at five of those updates on a regular basis. I can only imagine how unmanageable it would be to follow a thousand people or companies or brands.
On LinkedIn, users receive the same news on the same or different days from five people they are connected to working at the same company. Or worse, the recycled article is liked and shared over and over again by connections. Another common practice is for users to share the same content a few times at different times of the day or week just to make sure people finally see it. LinkedIn has started to mimic the rest of the social sites, testing and rolling out a service where everyone, by the millions, can create and share content.
I login to Facebook and see 10 posts from someone who is mad about some news report or unfairness somewhere in the world. Then there are sometimes another 10 posts against this other post, and another one having a birthday I couldn’t care about. Some people who went to an event and now are sharing massive irrelevant (to me) posts about it, discussions about things I have no clue about and do not want to be involved in, and worse, people sometimes share images or news of terrible suffering or just disgusting, pathetic, negative content or all of the above.
There exists too much information that users don’t care for and more than they can ever handle even if they wanted to. I do not particularly like following or being followed. The model feels wrong to me. So what’s the solution?
There is a reason people are abandoning their cable subscriptions and switching to content providers like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and Amazon’s instant videos. These all offer on-demand content. You choose the content you want to see, when you want to see it.
The same goes for messaging apps like Whatsapp, Snapchat and iMessage. No wonder they are growing in popularity. Just look at their growth compared to traditional social apps. They offer a private, personal experience and users only utilize these messaging apps to connect with the people they want to collaborate with at that particular instance.
The solution is more innovation in social moving towards new companies and innovations that let us choose what we see and when we see it. A platform that will allow us to only choose a few confidants with whom we would like to stay in contact with for their content and opinions. A platform that is less like cable TV and offers more personal, private, high quality interactions and collaboration.