Buzzfeed implements the IndieWeb concept of backfeed to limit filter bubbles
Outside Your Bubble
This past Wednesday, BuzzFeed rolled out a new feature on their website called “Outside your Bubble”. I think the concept is so well-described and so laudable from a journalistic perspective, that I’ll excerpt their editor-in-chief’s entire description of the feature below. In short, they’ll be featuring some of the commentary on their pieces by pulling it in from social media silos.
What is interesting is that this isn’t a new concept and even more intriguing, there’s some great off-the-shelf technology that helps people move towards doing this type of functionality already.
The IndieWeb and backfeed
For the past several years, there’s been a growing movement on the the internet known as the IndieWeb, a “people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web’.” Their primary goal is for people to better control their online identities by owning their own domain and the content they put on it while also allowing them to be better connected.
As part of the movement, users can more easily post their content on their own site and syndicate it elsewhere (a process known by the acronym POSSE). Many of these social media sites allow for increased distribution, but they also have the side effect of cordoning off or siloing the conversation. As a result many IndieWeb proponents backfeed the comments, likes, and other interactions on their syndicated content back to their original post.
Backfeed is the process of pulling back interactions on your syndicated content back (AKA reverse syndicating) to your original posts.
This concept of backfeed is exactly what BuzzFeed is proposing, but with a more editorial slant meant to provide additional thought and analysis on their original piece. In some sense, from a journalistic perspective, it also seems like an evolutionary step towards making traditional comments have more value to the casual reader. Instead of a simple chronological list of comments which may or may not have any value, they’re also using the feature to surface the more valuable comments which appear on their pieces. In a crowded journalistic marketplace, which is often misguided by market metrics like numbers of clicks, I have a feeling that more discerning readers will want this type of surfaced value if it’s done well. And discerning readers can bring their own value to a content publisher.
I find it interesting that not only is BuzzFeed using the concept of backfeed like this, but in Ben Smith’s piece, he eschews the typical verbiage ascribed to social media sites, namely the common phrase “walled garden,” in lieu of the word silo, which is also the word adopted by the IndieWeb movement to describe a “centralized web site typically owned by a for-profit corporation that stakes some claim to content contributed to it and restricts access in some way (has walls).”
To some extent, it almost appears that the BuzzFeed piece parrots back portions of the Why IndieWeb? page on the IndieWeb wiki.
Helping You See Outside Your Bubble | BuzzFeed
A new feature on some of our most widely shared articles.
BuzzFeed News is launching an experiment this week called “Outside Your Bubble,” an attempt to give our audience a glimpse at what’s happening outside their own social media spaces.
The Outside Your Bubble feature will appear as a module at the bottom of some widely shared news articles and will pull in what people are saying about the piece on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, the web, and other platforms. It’s a response to the reality that often the same story will have two or three distinct and siloed conversations taking place around it on social media, where people talk to the like-minded without even being aware of other perspectives on the same reporting.
Our goal is to give readers a sense of these conversations around an article, and to add a kind of transparency that has been lost in the rise of social-media-driven filter bubbles. We view it in part as a way to amplify the work of BuzzFeed News reporters, and to add for readers a sense of the context in which news lives now.
And if you think there’s a relevant viewpoint we’re missing, you can contact the curator at email@example.com.
Editorial Perspective and Diminishing Returns
The big caveat on this type of journalistic functionality is that it may become a game of diminishing returns. When a new story comes out, most of the current ecosystem is geared too heavily towards freshness: which story is newest? It would be far richer if there were better canonical ways of indicating which articles were the most thorough, accurate, timely and interesting instead of just focusing on which was simply the most recent. Google News, as an example, might feature a breaking story for several hours, but thereafter every Tom, Dick, and Harry outlet on the planet will have their version of the story — often just a poorer quality rehash of the original without any new content — which somehow becomes the top of the heap because it’s the newest in the batch. Aram Zucker-Scharff mentioned this type of issue a few days ago in a tweetstorm which I touched upon last week.
Worse, for the feature to work well, it relies on the continuing compilation of responses, and the editorial effort required seems somewhat wasted in doing this as, over time, the audience for the article slowly diminishes. Thus for the largest portion of the audience there will be no commentary, all the while ever-dwindling incoming audiences get to see the richer content. This is just the opposite of the aphorism “the early bird gets the worm.” Even if the outlet compiled responses on a story from social media as they were writing in real time, it becomes a huge effort to stay current and capture eyeballs at scale. Hopefully the two effects will balance each other out creating an overall increase of value for both the publisher and the audience to have a more profound effect on the overall journalism ecosystem.
Personally and from a user experience perspective, I’d like to have the ability to subscribe to an article I read and enjoyed so that I can come back to it at a prescribed later date to see what the further thoughts on it were. As things stand, it’s painfully difficult and time consuming as a reader to attempt to engage on interesting pieces at a deeper level. Publications that can do this type of coverage and/or provide further analysis on ongoing topics will also have a potential edge over me-too publications that are simply rehashing the same exact stories on a regular basis. Outlets could also leverage this type user interface and other readers’ similar desire to increase their relationship with their readers by providing this value that others won’t or can’t.
Want more on “The IndieWeb and Journalism”?
See: Some thoughts about how journalists could improve their online presences with IndieWeb principles along with a mini-case study of a site that is employing some of these ideas.
In some sense, some of this journalistic workflow reminds me how much I miss Slate.com’s Today’s Papers feature in which someone read through the early edition copies of 4–5 major newspapers and did a quick synopsis of the day’s headlines and then analyzed the coverage of each to show how the stories differed, who got the real scoop, and at times declare a “winner” in coverage so that readers could then focus on reading that particular piece from the particular outlet.
Backfeed in action
What do you think about this idea? Will it change journalism and how readers consume it?
As always, you can feel free to comment on this story directly below, but you can also go to most of the syndicated versions of this post indicated below, and reply to or comment on them there. Your responses via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ will be backfed via Brid.gy to this post and appear as comments below, so the entire audience will be able to see the otherwise dis-aggregated conversation compiled into one place.
If you prefer to own the content of your own comment or are worried your voice could be “moderated out of existence” (an experience I’ve felt the sting of in the past), feel free to post your response on your own website or blog, include a permalink to this article in your response, put the URL of your commentary into the box labeled “URL/Permalink of your Article”, and then click the “Ping Me” button. My site will then grab your response and add it to the comment stream with all the others.