Credit: Stuart Hall Library

I get by with a little content from my friends

Levi Mills wrote a great post yesterday about Facebook’s feed redesign. ‘Friends don’t let friends curate (FB’s Redesign)’ touches on the many challenges of FB’s pivot into content curation.

As Levi wisely points out, visual clutter has been and continues to be a frequent feed pain point. But the major challenge surrounds FB’s strategic decision to turn our feeds into a source of content.

This rang true:

As we all venture further and further into the depths of the internet we find people that share our interests. Lots of them, actually. Letting these people -- people you look up to or share interests with or share careers with -- curate the content you see starts to make more sense than letting your Great Aunt Sally run the show.

I’ll be the first to admit that the articles my Great Aunt sends are not always the more relevant (but if you’re into education, I’ll forward you my Great Aunt Leah’s content—she’s spot on.)

That said, the FB redesign is actually about two separate (but related) issues that often get wrapped into a single debate:

1) Facebook’s place as a platform for content

2) The relevancy of content curated by friends

I originally joined Facebook as a means to connect with friends

Facebook began giving access to addresses in the second half of my 4 years of high school.

I was excited to join this exclusive (at the time) platform that my college-aged friends talked about. I readily friended anyone and everyone that I met.

A few years later I have a bunch of ‘friends’ on FB.

I don’t know 15% of these people, can only tell you how I met another 35% of them (but no other meaningful details of their lives), and the remaining group is a compilation of friends, family, and loose connections that I made throughout college/internships/jobs.

FB is already cluttered enough for me.

Keeping up with events and pages and games has become a burden that I’m largely disinterested in.

These days, I find myself reverting to FB for its earliest features. I log in, check if any pictures were posted/comments were made (walls were written on?) and then I log off. I’m still on it multiple times a day, but the time spent on the site has significantly decreased.

So, is Facebook a platform that I would check for the latest and greatest content to consume?

For the most part, no.

It is an interesting source of viral content, though. I did my undergrad at the University of Michigan. Last week BuzzFeed posted an article (35 Ways You Know You’re a Michigan Wolverine) that I missed in the real-time feed that is my Twitter stream.

But when I logged onto FB there it was: top of my feed.

10 of those random friends that I happened to meet in one course or another in Ann Arbor posted the article to their timeline. FB recognized this and thought that the content might be relevant for me.

By and large FB, in its current state and with my current network, will never be my go-to site for my content discovery. But for some people, and in cases of explicit vitality tied to a network, I can see value.

Friends curating content can be incredibly valuable.

The key here is separating ‘friends’ (the too large network that you are connected to via FB) and friends (those you actually interact with in life—either physically or across the internet.)

In Levi’s post, he questions the value of friends as curators and FB feed’s positioning as a content hub:

I like my friends. I like the same things as many of my friends. Do I want my friends to be the curators of the content I consume? No. A thousand times no. Facebook’s own Jane Justice Leibrock recently posted in the Facebook User Experience Lab blog about the process Facebook went through in redesigning the new News Feed, and they found that I’m not alone in that sentiment.

This is where I disagree. This is where studies done on Facebook ‘friends’ are confused with how other networks with close ties interact.

I like my friends too (most of them, anyway.) I like similar things to my friends.

I may not want all of them posting content that I largely wont be interested in…especially the friend—in the FB definition of the word—from 10th grade that wants my ‘like’ to help him win a local contest of some sort.

However, I do value an article recommended by a friend who a) enjoyed it themselves and b) believes that I will enjoy it too.

The issue is not that friends are bad curators and strong content can only be sourced by thought leaders and experts, it’s that only certain friends and certain platforms structure this sharing of content properly.

Think about how many emails flood your inbox (or tweets you read) from friends every week. A recommended video. An article you need to read.

Friends are often good at acting as a last layer of curation, taking what’s been funneled through distinct corners of the internet and connecting you to it. The real issue is around the means that people currently use to push this information (and occasionally the frequency of those suggestions.)

A few friends and I have started a group on Branch to solve this issue among ourselves.

We each have similar interests (for the most part.) We each regularly visit a variety of sites (some original content, others already curated.) And we each enjoy discovering new content (but don’t always have the time to check regularly check Twitter or Reader feeds.)

That was a long way of saying: we enjoy discovering the interesting things that friends and friends of friends are reading.

We like discussing these articles. We like that Branch stores all of the content on a scrolling, visually aesthetic virtual bookshelf.

We trust our friends’ ability to pull interesting tidbits of information from the infinite content creation and curation occurring around the internet.

Facebook has become so intertwined with the word ‘friend’ that at times we forget to separate the two definitions.

Is FB’s new feed a perfect answer or strategy to shift into more explicit content curation? Absolutely not.

But are friends a valuable source of content? Yes.

There’s already too much to consume online. It’s impossible to spend all my free time sorting through sites and feeds for myself. I certainly haven’t found a single site or platform that fully sources content across all types of media and interests that I have.

So I, for one, would much rather discover content sourced by friends. But for now, I’ll stick with Branch to do that. Sorry Facebook.

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