Benedict Evans: The death of the newsfeed

One basic problem here is that if the feed is focused on ‘what do I want to see?’, then it cannot be focused on ‘what do my friends want (or need) me to see?’ Sometimes this is the same thing – my friend and I both want me to see that they’re throwing a party tonight. But if every feed is a sample, then a user has no way to know who will see their post. Indeed, conceptually one might suggest that they have no way to know if anyone will see this post.

Of course, Facebook’s engagement teams won’t let that happen – if I feel too much that I’m shouting into the wilderness I’ll leave (this is one of Twitter’s new user problems), and so I’ll be rationed out at least enough exposure to friends and engagement feedback to keep posting. Until you don’t. But if something was really important, why would you put it on Facebook?

I think one could suggest that this is some of what’s behind the suggestions of systemically lower engagement on Facebook newsfeeds, and behind the obvious growth of person-to person chat (most obviously WhatsApp, iMessage, FB Messenger and Instagram – three of which Facebook of course owns). The social dynamics of a 1:1 chat work much more strongly against overload, and even if one person does overshare they’re in a separate box, that you can mute if you like.

..  a key Snap thesis – that though you still share things asymmetrically, there shouldn’t be an algorithm between you and your friends.

.. That is, maybe Stories mean you share more things, but by bundling them into one thing you place less load on your friends and reduce the need for a filter.

.. A Snapchat story isn’t a permanent record and has less pressure to show off your perfection. Stickers and filters are more fun and spontaneous than Facebook’s rigid blue boxes

.. The catch is that though these systems look like they reduce sharing overload, you really want group chats. And lots of groups. And when you have 10 WhatsApp groups with 50 people in each, then people will share to them pretty freely.

 

.. All social apps grow until you need a newsfeed
All newsfeeds grow until you need an algorithmic feed
All algorithmic feeds grow until you get fed up of not seeing stuff/seeing the wrong stuff & leave for new apps with less overload
All those new apps grow until…

.. perhaps the old joke ‘No-one goes there anymore – it’s too crowded.’ That is, for social, Metcalfe’s Law might look more like a bell curve. I don’t know what the next product here will be (I didn’t create Snap, after all). But tech like this tends to move in cycles – we swing from one kind of expression to another and back again, and we might be swinging away from the feed.

..  the ‘WhatsApp forward’ can take such a link and send it viral across a country, and where Facebook can ultimately kill a link or an entire source across the whole site if it really wants to, it’s very different for a P2P messaging app to make that call (outside China, of course).

.. the plea from many media companies to ‘up-rank’ their posts in the newsfeed – to make people eat their greens – and to kill ‘fake news’ links is at least theoretically possible on Facebook. It’s not possible in iMessage – with end-to-end encryption, Apple has no idea what you’re sharing.

Last blog standing, “last guy dancing”: How Jason Kottke is thinking about kottke.org at 20

A lot of them didn’t use Twitter. There was a lot of Snapchat usage, but it was mainly peer-to-peer and a couple of people of people were like: Wait, you can read news on Snapchat? And someone else was like: Oh yeah, you can go here and do that! They were like: Ohhhhh, right. They don’t do that. I got the feeling that if it’s not on Facebook and it’s not on Instagram, and it doesn’t involve their friends, they don’t really care that much.

How Instagram Opened a Ruthless New Chapter in the Teen Photo Wars

Millions of teens have migrated much of their daily photo-messaging to Snapchat, which offers many of Instagram’s perks in a more private venue. Could Instagram lure them back? And how did Snapchat—an app that some adults find impenetrable—attract so many kids in the first place?

.. With Snapchat Stories, they have the expectation that their friends will see it, but with Instagram, you can’t really trust that it’s just your friends who will be seeing it.

.. If you exchange snaps with someone for more than three days in a row, a number starts to appear next to their name on the app. This signifies that you have “a streak” going with them. Every day you keep the streak going, the number counts up. After a 100-day streak, the 100 emoji appears. And an arcane set of emoji start to appear next to their name on Snapchat, too: Emojipedia has an explainer of what these mean, but a yellow heart, for instance, signifies that you and someone else are “best friends”—that they are the person you send and receive snaps with the most.

.. Rob: Are you intentional about the streaks? They’re not an accident?

Rob’s Brother: Yeah, they’re not an accident. I have not initiated that many streaks. I think you just ask someone who you want to spend more time with if they want to have a streak. It’s also like—for people who are going on Snapchat everyday, it’s not a big deal to add another streak. And then the more streaks you have, the better it looks.

.. Someone’s Snapchat score is the sum total of all the snaps they’ve ever received, all the snaps they’ve ever sent, and all the snaps they’ve ever posted to their story. It is publicly viewable and the object of some teasing. My Snapchat score is 10,085.

.. Rob’s Brother: I’d say that the higher the number of your streaks—I don’t how to put this—the more streaks you have and the higher they are, generally, the more “popular” you are, in air quotes.

.. Rob: Do you have a sense that’s an average number?

Rob’s Brother: Yeah, that’s pretty average. Most people are near where I am, with a score in the 10,000s. But then there are people with 15 streaks, four of them into 200 days, and their Snapchat score is 400,000.

.. Like, the better you are at Snapchat, the better you are in the social hierarchy of school.

.. Rob: Do you find people do that thing where they post something to their Snapchat story that’s only aimed at two to three people? Like, someone is trying to send a message to someone they like, or someone they want to be better friends with, but they don’t just want to send a snap directly to them.

Rob’s Brother: Oh, you mean like the “anyone up” post, or something like that?

.. Rob: Like, this is a thing as in—snapping your own internet usage?

Rob’s Brother: Well, I do not do this. And I don’t think many people do. But it’s a thing.

.. Rob’s Brother: I think stories are also more casual on Snapchat still, and less formal, than they are on Instagram. It’s a more casual way of saying, look at me, I’m hanging out with friends, I have a life.

Rob: That seems a part of the candid thing.

Rob’s Brother: Yeah, exactly. Just taking candid pictures of your friends doing things is advertising to the world that you don’t spend your whole day inside watching TV.

.. Rob: The bad candid picture of your friends—I feel like it’s also a way of being like, look, we’re so cool, we don’t even have to look cool, I don’t need to make this person look attractive in any way. But I might be reading too much into it.

Rob’s Brother: I think on Instagram, if you make someone look unattractive, that’s what you’re saying. On Snapchat, there’s an assumption that you’re advertising all this stuff only to your friends.

 .. Rob: So, on Myspace, you had a couple hundred friends, but only your top eight friends displayed, and—this was slightly before my time—but there was a lot of status-seeking in which eight friends you displayed and what it meant. You might have someone in your top friends, but did they have you in their top eight friends? People got knocked out.
.. There’s not a huge amount of talking about Snapchat. There’s more talk about Instagram than Snapchat.
.. Rob’s Brother: When you first get Instagram, you Instagram stuff a lot.Rob: Gotta build up that archive.

.. Instagram at this point is just pretty pictures and occasional life events that I want to advertise. And Snapchat is, like, here’s a thing that’s funny, and here’s a joke about it. Or, I’m bored, and here’s my face that looks like a dog.

.. Instagram just feels too formal. Like, “everyone’s gonna see this”—I feel like, often, Instagram is your first impression on a lot of people.

.. Rob: It is! It is the most public part of most people’s internet persona.

Rob’s Brother: And as you use Instagram to get a first impression on other people, you realize that people are using yours to get a first impression on you. So then you change it.

Rob: You start performing for a generic internet person, or a generic high schooler, and you start performing less for your friends.

.. Also I feel like people don’t post on Instagram as much during the winter, because people definitely want to show off the beach day, but they know that people don’t really care about them sipping hot cocoa and doing homework.

.. People carry their phone during the summer a lot more than they do during the winter, because it’s a lot less likely for your phone to fall out of your pocket and immediately be ruined.

I also feel like, winter is during the school year, so you get to communicate with your friends more, and they know what you’re doing more.

.. Rob: So Instagram is almost like a postcard-y medium? It’s like postcards for teens.

.. Rob’s Brother: It’s like a personal Instagram that’s private, and it’s only got like 25 followers. It’s not for the likes, and it’s not for anyone else to see. And you post, like, very personal things on it.

Rob: So it’s like people using a private Twitter? So Finsta is like you and your 19 best friends?

Rob’s Brother: You and your 40 best friends. I think generally if someone’s in your grade, and they want to follow your Finsta, you accept them, but there isn’t that much on a Finsta, honestly. If you’re not their friend, it’s not that interesting.

.. Rob’s Brother: Yes. Correct. It’s mostly complaining and bad selfies. Roasting teachers. They’re generally not that interesting. I feel like they’re almost the equivalent of a diary.

Rob: I mean, I know adults who have private locked Twitter accounts and they use it mostly for complaining about work or family stuff.

Rob’s Brother: Yeah, it’s mostly for complaining. And people with Finstas don’t want people to see them complaining because A, if you don’t know them, it translates as whininess, and B, if you do know them, you have a chance of being mean to somebody. The other appeal of a Finsta is that your parents can’t find you on a Finsta.