Forgive me for sounding a bit cynical about Facebook’s Trending Articles feature, but I’ve just spent 30 minutes of my life reading stories about ‘Snooki’s tan’, ‘Real-life Russian Barbies’ and ‘The ten best movie explosions of all time’. Needless to say, I’m feeling a little disillusioned with the state of humanity right now.
If you haven’t yet had the displeasure of witnessing Trending Articles, let me break it down for you. It’s basically a stream of content aggregated from social reader applications, displayed in a simple yet highly visible box in the Facebook newsfeed. An article starts trending when multiple Facebook friends using the same social reader app (e.g. The Guardian, Yahoo, Washington Post, etc.) open the same article.
It’s what Facebook likes to call “Frictionless Sharing” in its most literal form. But if we’re going to be literal about this, let me tell you another thing that’s literally frictionless: A vacuum! By implementing Trending Articles, Facebook is sucking out all the social utility of shared content and damaging the fabric of organic interconnectedness that it seeks to foster.
Evidently I’m not the only dissatisfied customer, with new data revealing a mass exodus of social reader apps among Facebook users.
- Why Facebook’s Trending Articles feature is bad
What makes these ‘trending’ stories of relevance to me? Just because I’m friends with someone on Facebook, doesn’t mean I share the same interests as them. Furthermore, these are articles that my friends are simply choosing to read, not articles they’re actively sharing. By attempting to be intuitive, Facebook is effectively breaking down the power of word-of-mouth driven advocacy that has traditionally been one of the platform’s strong points.
As Facebook users, every day we continue to allow more and more permissions to third-party applications utilising the Open Graph API. Brands have new opportunities to automatically post information to a user’s network of friends and family without even being prompted to do so. It’s perpetuating a pattern of information sharing that is confusing and, in some cases, disingenuous. How can I trust a friend’s content recommendation if I’m not even sure they approved of it in the first place?
- Social actions need to be authentic
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Open Graph applications that post on a user’s behalf as long as they do it right. But the only ‘right’ way to do this is with authenticity. Just like with any form of communication, transparency is intrinsic to establishing meaningful connections.
Digital platforms may be able to more comprehensively mould behaviours and shape user experiences than other mediums, but they should never be used by brands to hijack a user’s profile and push messages that are out of sync with said user’s personal identity.
Brands should be integrating, emulating and [where possible] propagating the ideas and information that engaged users hold dear, rather than subverting existing behavioural norms for their own benefit.
It will be interesting to see where Facebook takes the Trending Articles feature and if they can reinstate some kind of relevancy with future iterations. With a bit of work it definitely has the potential to become a very useful and fluid form of content generation.