People like a lot of stuff, love a small handful of stuff, and like interacting with all that stuff to various degrees on Facebook. But a long time ago, Facebook realized it needed to start filtering the news feed once users became inundated with their friends’ stupid Instagram lunches and brands abusing the system to get more attention and likes. This isn’t a problem, it’s just the way people work.
Over the last couple of years, someone with a decent following has noticed this reality of social media, possibly done some research, then penned a rant accusing the company of forcing popular people and brands of having to pay-to-play to reach a larger portion of “their” audience every time they want to say something, regardless of how important that thing may actually be in the grand scheme. Rinse, repeat.
This time around, Nick Bilton penned a complaint for the New York Times and Facebook responded with what understandably feels like boilerplate text. Users are interested in a lot of stuff and have a lot of friends, but that doesn’t mean they want to hear every single update about every single thing. Life just doesn’t work like that.
When you look at human behavior, there’s nothing new here. Very few people follow every nugget of content from more than a couple things they’re into—for most people it’s probably a couple of really close friends and family members, a favorite band or two, and that great new TV show, tops. For everything else most people are interested in, they tune in and out; scroll through Twitter and maybe catch a couple updates; buy a magazine but not a subscription; watch a couple episodes but not the season; see the first film but not the trilogy.
People’s attention occupies a vast, fickle universe, and we are tremendously lucky to get anywhere near the center of it, ever. To expect to leap directly to the center with every single pithy quote, article, or photographed lunch is irrational. There are myriad ways for creators to increase their chances of making it farther in, and ways for the audience to temper and pace their attention. Facebook tackles this problem of information overload programmatically and, if you use the service the way most actual users do, I’d say it’s pretty successful (in fact, I wish Twitter, Tumblr, and similar networks would add this mechanism). Users even have a way to explicitly opt into every single update from a friend or page, but that’s their choice to make.
Instead of being upset at Facebook for trying to work within the confines of human behavior, a better approach is to give users more reasons to choose to let us get closer to the center of their attention.