When it comes to the Web, information is infinite. Or at least that’s what it feels like when you’re dealing with numerous feeds on a daily basis. If you think about the sites we visit on a daily basis, you’ll realise that without even trying, there’s a lot competing for our attention. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, RSS readers. Already, that’s a lot of feeds fighting for your attention without factoring in mobile apps or the numerous aggregation sites out there.
With more information, we need more help to make sense of it all since realistically, we’re probably only interested in half of what’s posted at any time. But are we placing too much trust in these algorithms?
Our social media feeds have evolved to the point that we’re not just seeing what our friends are posting, but what the world is doing. Even just looking at how Facebook evolved in recent times, its focus has shifted from the personal to the global with articles, brands, links, news, games all fighting for your attention. What you’re left with is an overload of information that is almost impossible to take in.
Of course, Facebook and Google+ preempted this by introducing its own algorithms to help filter your newsfeed. Edgerank is the most prolific example out there, prioritising certain stories based on your interaction and preferences. For the most part, you don’t even have to interact with these posts for Facebook to figure out which posts you prioritise. Google+, on the other hand, focuses more on your circles. For each new circle you create, you can adjust how frequently its posts appear in your news feed. If you’re smart with how you use your circles, you can have a great deal of control over what appears and what doesn’t.
However, there are always flaws to such an algorithm. For one, people and pages won’t always be consistent with the type of content they post. Since taste is so subjective, there will always be a case where certain posts will resonate better with you than others. However, sometimes this can be a problem as an ignored post could mean it won’t appear the second time round, especially if it’s a business page, which is given less priority than personal profiles.
On the flip side, you only have to look at the likes of Twitter to see the argument against having an unfiltered newsfeed. The social equivalent to an RSS reader (but without the nagging unread section that guilts you into reading everything), you know that if something was posted 30 minutes before you logged in, the chances of you actually reading it is pretty slim.
This presents a dilemma of sorts. As our thirst for more information grows and the amounts available to us increases, our ability to consume large amounts of information and retain it remains the same.