Tag Archives: timelines

The algorithm has ruined Facebook

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.

Algorithmic timeline now rolling out

Dan Moren reports that Twitter is rolling out their algorithmic timeline, where tweets aren’t strictly reverse-chronological. It is opt-in for now, and likely won’t apply to third-party clients:

“I’d also guess that third-party clients won’t be able to implement this for a while, if ever. So users of Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and others won’t really have a substantively different experience.”

I don’t see the setting in my Twitter account yet. As a user, I hardly care, because I don’t read the Twitter timeline directly anyway. But I’ll be watching how people react to this and how it might affect my own microblogging plans.

Hyperlinks and saving the web

Hossein Derakhshan spent 6 years in jail in Iran because of his blog. Now, with the clarity of seeing years of changes to the web and social networks all at once after his release, he’s written an important essay on the value of hyperlinks and the open web:

“When a powerful website – say Google or Facebook – gazes at, or links to, another webpage, it doesn’t just connect it , it brings it into existence; gives it life. Without this empowering gaze, your web page doesn’t breathe. No matter how many links you have placed in a webpage, unless somebody is looking at it, it is actually both dead and blind, and therefore incapable of transferring power to any outside web page.”

He mentions apps like Instagram, which have no way to link to the outside world. Too many apps are exactly like this: more interested in capturing eyeballs for ads than opening up their platform. The default for native mobile apps is to become silos, while the default for web sites is to be open and support linking.

There’s a second part to Hossein’s essay that I don’t agree with, though. He writes that “the stream” – a.k.a the timeline, a reverse-chronological list of short posts or links – is turning the web into television. But I think there’s a lot we can learn from the timeline. It’s a valuable user experience metaphor that we should take back from Twitter and social networks.

Building on the timeline is basically the whole point of my microblogging project. We should encourage independent microblogs by using a timeline interface to make them more useful. (Interested? Sign up on my announce list.)

Back to links. Dave Winer, who has been cross-posting recently to Facebook and Medium, posted about how Facebook doesn’t allow inline links in the text of a post. As a new generation grows up on these kind of posts instead of real blog posts, will people understand what they’re missing? Dave writes:

“I hope we don’t end up having to try to explain linking to future generations who have no recollection of an electronic writing environment where words could take you to a whole other place. But I suspect we’re going there. Unless somehow we can get Facebook to relent and make it easy to link from words in Facebook posts to other places on the web.”

This is a great challenge for 2016. Not specifically with Facebook, but with the larger idea of bringing back the web we lost, retrofitted for today’s app-centric internet. I hope to spend a good part of the year working on it.

Microblog timelines, Project Lightning, and River.js

I said that one important facet to microblogging is the timeline experience. This is a basic foundation to Twitter’s success, although they continue to de-emphasize or twist it. Their upcoming Project Lightning will attempt to curate and deliver tweets to you that are important regardless of who you’re following. From Mat Honan’s scoop on the project for Buzz Feed:

“Launch one of these events and you’ll see a visually driven, curated collection of tweets. A team of editors, working under Katie Jacobs Stanton, who runs Twitter’s global media operations, will select what it thinks are the best and most relevant tweets and package them into a collection.”

David Pierce wrote for Wired with further speculation on what it could mean for Twitter. David starts with the premise that Twitter is basically full of junk:

“Sure, yes, everyone’s Twitter is different—that’s one of the service’s best aspects, that you can follow anyone you want and see whatever you want. Unfortunately, this only works if everyone on Twitter isn’t terrible most of the time. They are.”

The essay continues, describing Project Lightning as the death of the Twitter timeline as we know it:

“With this change, Twitter doesn’t have to look like an endlessly flowing, context-free stream of tweets; instead, you can see a hand-curated set of tweets, links, images, and videos related to what’s happening right now. You see one at a time, swiping through them until you get to the end. And there’s an end!”

Since I haven’t seen this new feature, I can’t tell whether it’s a major shift in how Twitter is used. Federico Viticci is optimistic about it:

“This is another example of Twitter moving beyond Legacy Twitter and the belief that Twitter is still only a timeline of tweets in chronological order. The company has been enhancing the service with media improvements and design changes aimed at making Twitter less static – the opposite of a traditional timeline. If anything, they’ve been moving too slowly in this area.”

I agree with Federico on the value of curation and surfacing great content. But also the timeline must remain at the heart of Twitter, just as a reverse-chronological list of posts has been on every blog home page since the term weblog was coined 18 years ago.

Dave Winer calls these timelines “rivers”, and last week he open-sourced a browser for the River.js timeline files. Formatted as JSONP, you can think of River.js as conceptually the same as an RSS feed, except that it’s easy to display with HTML using only JavaScript.

I plan to fully support outputting River.js in the project I’m working on. For the last few years, Twitter has had a monopoly on the timeline. We need to break that up. The first step is encouraging microblogs everywhere, and the next step is to build tools that embrace the timeline experience. If you’d like to see my take on this, please sign up on the project announce list.