Dear Facebook, connecting the world isn’t the same as building bridges

For the last 12 hours, there has been a lot of excitement in the media around this extract of Mark Zuckerberg’s speech at F8 (partly because he directly takes on Trump).

“Instead of building walls, we can help build bridges.”
- Mark Zuckerberg, 4/12/2016

This sentence caught my attention for various reasons:

  • I wouldn’t say he stole it, but he’s definitely not the first one to say it:
“We build too many walls, and not enough bridges.”
- Isaac Newton
  • This quote (from Newton I mean) has been on the landing page of our website for the last 10 months.
  • This website is actually called Bridges
  • When I associate this quote with Facebook, they are usually the ones building the walls, not the bridges.
    (By the way, do you remember what the original name of your “Timeline” was ? Yes! it was called your “Wall”…)

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about all the efforts of Facebook as a company. I’m talking about the tool with 1.59 billion monthly users (yes that’s more than a fifth of humanity).


I may be a bit harsh, but if you think of it, is Facebook really making the world “more open and connected”, like announced in their stated mission ?

So let’s see, what’s in your news feed ? People, and content.

People

Facebook does connect you to people. But it’s usually with people you already know in some other way. It doesn’t open new connections. 
The difficulty to exchange messages with someone who’s not in your friend list is a good example: the « other » inbox is so hidden people usually take 6 months to answer, if ever… (I get it prevents spamming, but there’s a balance to find).

Content

Facebook’s news feed is a jewel of algorithmic personalization: among all the content posted by your friends, groups or pages you like, it only shows you the most “relevant”. But Facebook’s definition of relevance is: based on your profile, what has the highest probability to keep you scrolling and clicking.
So my feed becomes a flow of content I’m already familiar with, because anything else would have a cognitive load too high for a brain numbed by all the scrolling.
In the end, Facebook doesn’t care about what I learn, if it expands my horizons, or opens me to the world’s culture. It only cares about keeping my attention just a little bit longer, … and longer, … and longer, …

So: More connected ? sure. More open ? not really.


Building bridges is more than just giving people the opportunity to connect. A bridge closes a gap, brings two distinct lands together. It’s about opening new opportunities to travel into the unknown, to meet, and to discover.

Currently, most web platforms are using an interest-based approach and trying to bring us “only-the-best-personalized-content-suggested-for-you-by-machine-learning-algorithms”. But if we only see content that fit our interests, aren’t we losing our discovery powers ?
This looks more like building walls than building bridges.

So how do you build bridges on the web ?

We need to forget this interest-based approach, and instead of asking “What does this user want to see ?”, ask “What is the most enriching thing this user could see ?”.

People are good at knowing what complementary information could benefit you the most: it is the fuel of every interesting discussion where people bounce off each others’ ideas. 
So what if they were the ones suggesting you “what to watch next ?”, not algorithms. They would guide your exploration towards discovering new universe, and learn from other people’s perspectives.

That is what we are creating with Bridges (the website this time: www.bridges.land). It’s a culture-sharing platform where people create recommendations to help you diversify your knowledge.

We are currently in beta, but thanks to our community of “Bridgers” our map of human-linked webpages is constantly growing and getting more and more diverse.

You’re welcome to join us, explore this map, and share your culture to help us grow it!

See you on the other side.