Facebook started testing ‘Trending Articles’ roughly a week ago, but they’ve appeared in my own account for the first time today. Now below the latest update from my network, I get a block displaying 5 articles read by someone connected to me, like so (name of friend removed as who knows whether they want it displayed publicly)
I have the vaguest idea that this might be about American Football – a sport I rarely watch as I’m not a big fan, and it’s not freely available in the UK. In fact, none of the 5 highlighted stories were particularly interesting or relevant.
Partly that’s because my Facebook network is a network of friends, family, present and former colleagues and other people I’ve met over the last few years. So many of the people on there may not share similar interests to me – I don’t keep in touch with my 2nd cousin because of her knowledge of SEO, Social Media or 3D Printing for example.
And partly it’s because there’s no way for me to indicate which stories might actually be interesting and allow Facebook to learn more about what to show me – it’s not being cross-referenced against my listed interests as far as I can see.
Not only that, but there’s no way to remove or minimise it from my stream, and it’s designed to blend it well enough I can see a mistaken click on the lone ‘Share’ button is likely to happen more than once.
How Google missed a trick:
And possibly the saddest part of this is that I used to have the perfect mechanisms for finding articles from people I knew which I always found interesting. In addition to Twitter, my favourite way to get stories from friends and contacts was via Google Reader – it meant that the people I followed had made a decision to publicly share something from their stream which led to a far higher signal to noise ratio as I was able to select people with relevant interests from within my network, see everything they’d shared quickly and easily, and remove anyone who wasn’t quite in sync with what I wanted.
Obviously Google dropped that to pursue Google+, but that network has emulated Facebook in providing a lot of noise around the things I actually want. And yet Google has 6+ years of data on what I actively click and share via Reader, what I search for, and what I list as my interests on my profiles.
The saddest thing is that as publishers are finally moving towards embracing digital more and more as their core medium, the social networks seem to be moving towards interruption as a way to force up their figures and revenue. And while everyone complains about spam and misdirection in search results, at least there is an incentive for Google and Bing to try to curb the tide of paid links and dodgy manipulation in SEO, whereas there’s no such recourse on each social network.