Dave Winer writes today about how because of the way the Facebook news feed works, sometimes you never seem to hear from friends again because they’re demoted by the algorithm. Your friends are posting, but you never see what they’re saying. Also:
For other people you are a missing person. You being the person who dutifully informs all your Facebook friends of what’s going on in your life. You, the friend they never seem to think of. No surprise they’re not thinking of you. The Algorithm decided you don’t count.
If you want to see this in action, visit Facebook in a web browser and see what it shows you. Don’t scroll or click anything, just wait a few seconds and hit reload. Then hit reload again. And again. Each time you’re presented with a completely different view of what’s important. It’s unusable.
I’ve been following Seth Godin and reading his books for many years, but recently two of his statements caught my attention. The first is an older video episode with Gary Vaynerchuk, where Seth talks about why he has no presence on social media except automatic cross-posting of his blog posts.
The second is equally relevant to what I’ve been thinking about with Micro.blog. Seth says that we’ve surrendered control over how our software works to algorithms instead of human decision-makers who can take responsibility for mistakes. It’s too easy to blame the computer:
That person who just got stopped on her way to an airplane—the woman who gets stopped every time she flies—the TSA says it’s the algorithm doing it. But someone wrote that code.
Algorithms are a shortcut. They should give us more leverage to go further, faster, not dictate where we go.
The social web is now permeated with algorithms. Today, Twitter again promoted what’s trending higher up in their app. That may be a step in the wrong direction. Trends can sometimes surface the better parts of Twitter, but they’re also an invitation to view the worst possible tweets you’ll ever see.
Let’s not be afraid to add curation by humans. That’s not an admission of failure. It’s an acknowledgement that algorithms are imperfect.
Software has consequences. How it’s designed informs what behavior it encourages. If it’s built without thought to these consequences, it will succeed only by accident. For 2017, one of my goals is to slow down and be more deliberate about features that can have this kind of impact.