The Evolution of the World's Largest Social Network and the Resultant Effects on Digital Tribes

Facebook started out as a 'closed social network', one essentially meant for friends, associates and colleagues who know each other, to share personal information, photos and events that they may have been involved in.

As the number of active users grew and the need to look after bottomlines became imperative, the initial objectives started receding. The quest to increase the MAUs (monthly active users) by leaps and bounds and to increase content which in turn could drive contextual advertising, resulted in products, services and celebrities with huge fan followings getting precedence over what the guy-next-door desired to share. Driven by herd instinct, a lot of people got into the race to expand their network to overtake that of their associates and friends. 

Dunbar's number was thus given short shrift by many individuals. More about what Dunbar's number is all about can be read here.

As the resultant noise, fluff and spam in the News Feed (which had replaced the more intimate 'Wall' Facebook had started out with ) became off-putting and distracting for many, the filters to curate and edit the 'News Feed' kicked in. Since the amount of time spent by the average user in a day or a month became integral to the health and the growth of Facebook's revenue model, algorithms got busy dissecting and analyzing what each user 'liked' seeing and reacting to. The ultimate echo chamber and comfort bubble started taking shape.

Also, while Facebook vowed to remain free for all, given its business model, it decided that users couldn't have their entire network, steadily burgeoning in most cases, viewing their content for free. In any case, algorithms and filters had already established that many in their network didn't want to look at quite a bit of their content anyway. Since most individual users weren't willing to pay and 'promote' their content regularly to make it visible to a wider audience, products, services, publications and 'news agencies' became increasingly important in their scheme of things. The individual content creator was thus pegged back to having somewhere between 5 - 7% of his or her network getting to see any content that he or she posted, for several of the reasons already mentioned above. The transformation of the 'closed' social network to a 'walled social media which mainly thrived on impersonal news feeds' was complete. 

The resultant fallouts have been manifold. One of them, generally referred to as 'context collapse', is the phenomena where users are beginning to share less and less personal content on Facebook, opting instead to cross-post content from others on their network or other media platforms. A detailed dive into 'context collapse' and its implications can be taken here.

As 'trending news and events' assumed growing importance for advertisers and many users, certain sections started accusing Facebook of a distinct bias, possibly in the filters and algorithms it deployed, to slant its trends away from certain categories of news and events. While this is still being looked into and there is a school of thought that attributes this phenomena more to individual judgements rather than to filters and algorithms, the trust deficit continues to grow.

Facebook reacted to this recently by telling advertisers and news agencies that 'status updates' from friends and associates will hereafter take precedence over their posts in the News Feed. Check out the embedded post just below for an excellent elucidation on this.

Zuckerberg's vision is not to connect people in distant lands all over the globe but rather to bring them all to one big island and keep them there. At the end of the day, while Facebook may advocate bridges, it has succeeded in building a whole bunch of 'comfort bubbles' and divided the world more than ever before.