Why The Best Social Media Algorithm Is Yourself
When it comes to the Web, information is infinite. Or at least that’s what it feels like when you’re dealing with numerous feeds on a daily basis. If you think about the sites we visit on a daily basis, you’ll realise that without even trying, there’s a lot competing for our attention. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, RSS readers. Already, that’s a lot of feeds fighting for your attention without factoring in mobile apps or the numerous aggregation sites out there.
With more information, we need more help to make sense of it all since realistically, we’re probably only interested in half of what’s posted at any time. But are we placing too much trust in these algorithms?
Our social media feeds have evolved to the point that we’re not just seeing what our friends are posting, but what the world is doing. Even just looking at how Facebook evolved in recent times, its focus has shifted from the personal to the global with articles, brands, links, news, games all fighting for your attention. What you’re left with is an overload of information that is almost impossible to take in.
Of course, Facebook and Google+ preempted this by introducing its own algorithms to help filter your newsfeed. Edgerank is the most prolific example out there, prioritising certain stories based on your interaction and preferences. For the most part, you don’t even have to interact with these posts for Facebook to figure out which posts you prioritise. Google+, on the other hand, focuses more on your circles. For each new circle you create, you can adjust how frequently its posts appear in your news feed. If you’re smart with how you use your circles, you can have a great deal of control over what appears and what doesn’t.
However, there are always flaws to such an algorithm. For one, people and pages won’t always be consistent with the type of content they post. Since taste is so subjective, there will always be a case where certain posts will resonate better with you than others. However, sometimes this can be a problem as an ignored post could mean it won’t appear the second time round, especially if it’s a business page, which is given less priority than personal profiles.
On the flip side, you only have to look at the likes of Twitter to see the argument against having an unfiltered newsfeed. The social equivalent to an RSS reader (but without the nagging unread section that guilts you into reading everything), you know that if something was posted 30 minutes before you logged in, the chances of you actually reading it is pretty slim.
This presents a dilemma of sorts. As our thirst for more information grows and the amounts available to us increases, our ability to consume large amounts of information and retain it remains the same.
Taking Back Control
For one, the question isn’t how to filter all that information, but realistically how much can you take in at any given time. While the algorithms are useful in streamlining information, really you should take the time to decide what people and content you really want to see appear. A lot of the power is in our own hands, the only thing that’s really stopping you is the possible feeling of guilt for hiding or unfollowing someone.
For most sites, the inclusion of lists makes content easier to digest. By breaking down certain topics into more manageable chunks, it ensures that there are less posts fighting for your attention, and lets you focus on more important things.
However, when you’re deciding what you read and the type of information that appears in your feed, it’s better to be harsh and cut down or hide those that you follow but aren’t interested in. In the case of Facebook, you can select how often a person’s posts appear by clicking on the right-hand corner of their post. You can also hide them from your feed entirely, sparing you any awkward moments about why you unfriended someone.
As for a preferred number, that’s entirely dependent upon the person and who they’re following. Some people tweet 20 times a day while others only update their profiles once a month so instead you should look at how often your feed updates. While we all love to stay up-to-date, this can become tiring to check back on numerous feeds to see if you’ve missed anything.
With Twitter almost hiding lists on mobile to the point that they almost feel irrelevant, a better alternative is to cut down on the number of people you follow on the site. Tools like Manage Flitter will help you with the unfollowing process if the idea of going through Twitter’s official channels is too much for you to bare.
Yet this shouldn’t be a major problem as unless you’re spamming people with links or regularly post offensive tweets, the reasons for unfollowing are rarely personal if ever. It’s more a case that there are so many people in your feed, you’re going to prioritise the ones that are most relevant to you.
The Root Of The Problem
And that’s the crux of this problem: Most people feel obliged to follow certain people or risk a potential backlash, or not follow a page and end up falling behind with news or updates. The idea that we could be missing something is a powerful fear that we all have, but in most cases, the things that we’re supposedly missing are minor at best. Also, since we follow so many feeds, the chances of it being cross-posted is rather high so really, it’s a case of learning where to look.
If two or more people or pages are posting the same type of content, then unless they are your friends or interesting enough to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, then they’re just taking up space on your newsfeed. The same thing goes for RSS feeds and news subscriptions. If you’re not going to read through it, then why are you getting updates in the first place?
It might be painful at first, but you will thank yourself when you find it easier to remember and respond to content posted.