Facebook just announced sweeping changes to fix significant problems with its newsfeed, the main conduit for news and information for over 2 billion people. However, the problems with Facebook's newsfeed won't be fixed with these tweaks. In fact, they are likely to get much worse as Facebook attempts to fix them.
To understand why, let's jet back to 2001, years before Facebook and Twitter.
In 2001, the little software company I was at launched the first social networking product. The central feature of that product was the first newsfeed -- a presentation of the stream of updates you get from the people you are friends with and the pages you follow that you could interact with.
The reason I'm mentioning this is that one of the central discussions we had at the time was over how to organize the newsfeed. As we sorted through the options for organizing it, it was apparent even at that early stage that anything but the most basic sorting mechanism (simple reverse chronological order - newest at top) would eventually turn the newsfeed into a chaotic and unpredictable soup.
Keep this in mind as we flash forward to 2018.
In 2018, over 4 billion people are now using social networking, and the newsfeed is now the main conduit for news and information for over half the planet. However, these users aren't using the simple reverse chronological newsfeed we had in the first social networking product.
At Facebook, in particular, the newsfeed is actively managed and sorted -- by algorithms and increasingly, AIs -- to maximize the time people spend on the network and the revenue generated by their interactions. That effort is why the Facebook newsfeed has become a chaotic soup yielding unpredictable outcomes.
To see why failure was (and will continue to be) inevitable, let me recast the situation:
- Facebook is actively micromanaging the information flow and social interactions of over 2 billion people, and insanely complex and highly uncertain task.
- Facebook is making the sweeping decisions on how to micromanage the newsfeed centrally (with a small team of young executives empowered to relentless tweak the system by the dictatorial fiat of the company's CEO).
- Facebook's goals are a selfish utopianism (in its version utopia, the world revolves around Facebook).
See the inevitable problem now?
This is similar in so many ways to the source of the failure we saw with 20th Century Communism. They believed it was possible to centrally manage the economic interactions of millions centrally based on an utopian vision.
Needless to say, those plans didn't work out well. These won't either.
(written on clear and cold winter day)
PS: This is just the start. Already, weaponized social networks are overwhelming political systems, transforming warfare/terrorism, and supercharging transnational criminal enterprise -- far more so than any of the threats that well funded military #cyberwarfare and civilian #cybersecurity protect against. Worse, as if that isn't enough, the ongoing path of development in social networking is taking us towards forms of societal repression that would make George Orwell blush (that's the subject of January's Global Guerrillas Report).
PPS: In a twist, one of the factors that is likely to drive FB towards increasingly heavy handed AI driven censorship will be the nonlinear behavior of the network caused by its constant micromanagement of the newsfeed.