Automated newsfeeds

One of the things I liked about Facebook over Google News (and in practical terms, there are few enough of those) is that I could set the newsfeed up to deliver me stuff from a lot of different language sources. Google assumes monolinguality; it’s constantly offering me tips for searching for English results only and for someone who is multilingual and interested in what’s happening in the communities of her other languages kens, it’s a bit frustrating.

However, as an advantage, it really is waning and the reason for that is the famous Algorithm. Now, in simple terms, algorithm is just just a method for achieving some result. The result which Facebook allegedly wants is for me to have the most relevant material turning up in my feed as that enhances engagement, and engagement is a handy asset for getting money out of advertisers.

Whatever way it works, it’s serving me a lot of drivel I don’t want, particularly on the news front, to the extent that shortly, I’m going to unlike pretty much all the news sources. I’m sick of them. I get pages of Royal Weddings, pages of Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner, pages of entertainment rubbish that I really don’t care about, don’t want to see, and can’t switch off without switching off news altogether. Note to twitter: do not mess with the time driven method by which you serve me content.

Facebook is a time sink. Today, it’s been highly negative. There has been a preponderance of news stories that annoy me, and drivel that, if I’m truly honest, I don’t want to read, but still wind up reading. Much of it is repetitive with the same stories coming from several different sources, and the occasional marginal different angle. A lot of what turns up serves to make me feel inadequate too as there’s the stuff that tells you what you need to do to have a good career, what vegetables you should eat to get healthy sleep, the ten, fifteen or a million habits of Steve Jobs.

I loved computers and technology but I realised last night that possibly the two highest profile tech companies in the world, namely Facebook and Google, make money from advertising. You can spend all the money you like developing a better newsfeed selector but it’s not going to make the world much better. The tech industry often solves the wrong problems.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about the things that made me happy about the internet 20 odd years ago when my life got Netscape Navigator. It was the pretty things. The things that made me happy. The things that opened the world to me, and opened the possibilities.

It wasn’t a constant feed of news that I couldn’t directly influence myself. I haven’t worked out what to do to make FB give me politics not celebrity rubbish from the Guardian. And so, the news orgs are going to have to go and just maybe, FB will no longer become a pit of stuff that irritates me.