The Audience is Listening
TechCrunch ran a post about Why Twitter Hasn’t Failed despite multiple, long outages in its short existence.
Here’s the money quote (for me):
Twitter has a simple premise: You tweet & the message is pushed to your friends. The actual mechanics are slightly different (messages go to everyone who follows you, whether they’re your “friends” or not, assuming your stream is public) — but from a user’s perspective, the circle of receivers consists only of the people they know. Everyone else is part of a faceless crowd that’s hidden behind the follower count.
This simple premise holds the key to Twitter’s success: messages go to a well-defined audience. In the moment you release a tweet, you know who’s on the line and you have an idea of who can catch a glimpse of your message. @replies are the best illustration for this sense of audience: Even though Twitter is not a point-to-point message delivery system (let alone a reliable one), @replies are sent with the understanding that they will be read by the intended people because they are known to be in the audience. (Imagine a newspaper article that suddenly greeted a specific reader.)
That is exactly why I signed up for Vox a while back (before once again realizing that building a new social network every time you join a site is a Sisyphusian task; though I still like the short URL). It’s also the reason I used Twitter voraciously for a while (until my RSS feed broke for reasons unknown and apparently unfixable).
While the TechCrunch article argues that Facebook is not “Designed for Audience”, I would contend it is moving more and more toward that. The Status Update is pretty much a Tweet, if you will, with the added bonus that you can actually create groups of friends who won’t see your Status Updates. This allows for (what I consider to be) the important separation of Work and Life. The same applies to Facebook’s Notes. Yes, the app is still fairly primitive, but you can write a Note and have it only visible to a group that you explicitly select. Which, of course, brings us to the real reason that Facebook is not “Designed for Audience”.
TechCrunch is definitely correct in saying that the major problem with the Facebook News Feed is:
“When I post new things, will my friends actually see them?”
“Have my friends posted something that I’m not seeing? The news feed is cluttered right now with people I don’t care about.”
I have yet to be impressed by Facebook’s algorithms for selecting items for my News Feed, and everything seems to have been thrown into a tornado with the update to the New Facebook. For example, yesterday, I got a news item that my wife had tagged some friends in photos from our recent road trip. That is something I care about, but she’d actually done the tagging a week ago. I knew about it because I was in the room while she was doing it, but what about the friends on Facebook who don’t live with me?
I mentioned before that Facebook should offer an RSS version of the News Feed. Yes, it would probably be overwhelming, but there are some people who would probably relish and/or wallow in all that information, and there are others for whom it would solve the two-pronged problem of Audience. (“Who’s watching me?” and “Am I missing things?”)
FriendFeed works because it provides all the information about what people are doing (from limited sources, of course), and you can opt out of specific applications for specific friends. I realize this probably takes some extra tables in the database, but if Facebook could allow people to say “I don’t want to see anything more about this application” or “Just don’t show me anything from this application for this person” then the RSS News Feed would quickly be pared down to what each user really wants to see (which is what Facebook’s algorithms are trying to determine in the first place).
Recommendations for Facebook:
1) RSS News Feed
2) Opt out of applications and/or opt out of applications for specific users
The content generators can do as they do now, and share what they want to share with who they want, and the content consumers won’t have to worry they’re missing something unless they take action to exclude it.