I read a great piece on Medium today (read it here). It starts by talking about the change to the Instagram feed (now algorithmic) and turns that into a discussion on what the author calls “the attention web”. How our desire for free internet services means we are paying with our time. This struck a chord with me in several ways, given my current misgivings about the way that social media is being used not to develop offline businesses, but as a business model itself (brilliantly skewered by satirical news site the Betoota Advocate here).
Why should this be an issue? Surely people getting off their bum and doing something is a good thing? The problem is that networks, like the internet, generally follow what is called a power law, which states that a few nodes will have millions of connections and millions of nodes will have a few connections. What the algorithmic feed does is show you what is popular, not necessarily what you are looking for. Or even more importantly, what you don’t know you are looking for, but might stumble across serendipitously. How many of us have discovered a band we like because we heard them played on the radio, or came across a great film flicking through the channels?
The other issue is then for social media strategists. How do you get your information in front of people? I remember once going to an event on public sector broadcasting where someone made the comment that television was the only market where more players meant less choice for the viewer. That was in the early days of social media, but it does seem to hold true for that market too. Now you struggle to get a piece in front of people that isn’t “7 ways to…” “This one idea will change your life” or, as I see many of them: “How I took one incident in my life and decided it related to everyone else all the time”.
Basically this comes down to something else I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I’m not a slave to money, but that is what I need to pay my landlord and buy food. It is our currency and how we interact with each other. It is supposed to be something we exchange for items that have value. So I am now turning against the web that asks me to pay in time: when I see something I value, like certain web services, or journalism, I’m paying for it in money. If I want people to pay me for the value I give them, then I need to return the favour.