Idea: Chronological timeline algorithm for social platforms that reduces the noise

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humane-technology

#1

Algorithm Alternatives

*this post is written for fb like platform.

let me start by saying that I hate the built-in assumption of algorithms that they know more about everyone’s personal preferences than they do themselves. The opaque nature of algorithms are designed to maximize our time on platform by manipulating our emotions.

On the other hand the sheer amount of data (here posts) has to be sorted to make sense and presentable. Currently these companies sort data by optimizing and guessing the posts we want to see based on our history and we know how these things turnout. I am a big fan of chronological order and nobody should have the power to filter the information, especially opaque algorithms, other than the users themselves.

Lets flip focus from user to someone who posts. The only person who knows the importance of the post is the poster himself. Period. Whether it is a goofy selfie, shout-out for charity, meetup with friends, job promotion, sharing about Syria war. Only posters know how much important that particular post is to them. Not every check-in, meetup or coffee shot have same importance. Also we underestimate the importance of signaling in human society. In book ‘Elephant in the brain’ authors provide examples of people that often do not understand true motives of their behaviours. Most of what we share online is form of signalling, from our post about cute babies to environment issues.

The ideal filtration method would also take into account the number of “friends” one have, which it is safe to say exceeds the Dunbar number. Most of them are just acquaintance and we are “friends” with them just to be polite.

So here’s idea to tackle these issues:

  • This solution runs on monthly basis.

  • User has option of defining his relation with others, how much they want to interact or follow them.

  • User has three categories to place their “friends” in: gold stars, silver stars and fam (bear with me).

  • Every month everybody gets limited amount of gold and silver stars to start with (My preference 3 gold and 5 silver stars), they can grade and share other’s post as well.

  • As a user when you share something you can attach importance to it in the form of ‘star’ (which is limited). A user can post as much as they want, but they themselves have to give importance to their post.

  • Your Gold star posts will be seen by everyone in your friend list, unless they have blocked you.

  • Silver star posts will be seen by who want limited engagement.

  • Fam posts will be seen by people who has added you in that group, mainly your close friends and people who are genuinely interested in you, who wants to know you.

Conversely

  • *When you log in everything will be in chronological order in order of your preference.
  • If one of your colleague posts sh*t ton of messages you won’t see them, you will only see the posts that they mark important and not all the crap they put on the site, If you choose so. No algorithm here decides which post is important and should be seen by you.
  • You as a user are always aware how much filter bubble you are in and have power to change that.

One of the benefit of this is one will see a lot less of crappy posts, the post that are post just because it is easier to post. One can be hopeful that a lot less mindless ‘signaling’ posts will be shared as there is some sort of cost attached to posts, and the one which are shared will be more IMPACTFUL. It also helps the user decide if the post is worth engaging in. If someone post misinformed “starred” post then you know its worth engaging with them, and put your case for correct information.

Before anyone asks, yes selling ‘stars’ whether gold or silver is a very bad idea. Then people with money will have more influence in idea market. One can see this exercise as push towards quality than quantity.

Let me know your thoughts, criticize liberally.

Thank You


#2

While this is not a general solution to algorithmic timelines in social media (because Twitter, FB, and others have algorithms for different reasons), you could certainly incorporate something like this in a social media alternative you are developing.

If I understand correctly this entails:

  • You can basically spam you Fam however you want, but if you want to reach a broader audience, then you have a limited amount of silver and gold stars you can spend on this, so you have to be careful to spend them well.

What I see as issues are:

  • Not necessarily a bad thing, but you are asking more discipline from your users: They have to manage 3 levels of contacts/followed and for every post they have to weigh the importancy and make a choice. Bit of extra effort, but not too much.

  • How about if I am an influencer, and I just have a lot of important things to mention. This may be my primary reason for broadcasting posts. I might be a famous teacher and spreading my knowledge. The limitation of stars will withhold me from using the platform.

For the second issue, you should have a mechanism to obtain additional stars. You could build in a punish/reward system based on Likes and Dislikes. If many people like a gold-star post this indicates not only the author finds it important, but the reader base as well. A certain amount of Likes could lead to reward of an additional star, or even (eventually) to an increase in your monthly star quotum. Getting a lot of Dislikes or being flagged could lead to the loss of stars, diminishing of quotum.

In other words, you use Gamification to stimulate good behavior.

But this will not solve the problem entirely. If I am an influential teacher and teach e.g. Programming and Social skills, and send gold-starred posts on both topics, then people only interested in only one topic will still receive irrelevant posts.

Note also that chronological timelines is a separate feature, to which your idea is an extension. I am on Mastodon - a Twitter alternative - and where Twitter has algorithmic timelines, those of Mastodon are chronologic. My followers are all in a certain tech area, but they post a lot of unrelated stuff, like Anime images which I am not interested in.

Mastodon (and related products in the fediverse, like Pleroma) are therefore thinking of a feature, where you can follow a hashtag, instead of a person. Only problem is you will miss out on posts where people forgot to add the hashtag (but you can facilitate the UI to alleviate that problem).


#3

Well I fully agree that this is not the general solution for every social media platform but I mention in the beginning that this is for fb like platform. Let’s view this post through the lens of facebook.

I think I could have been more coherent in my post. Well I won’t say you can spam as much as you want. As someone who shares nothing changes for you except only giving the importance to your post. As a poster you post the same way you do now. It’s your ‘friends’ who decide how much they want to involve in your life, do they wanna be your ‘fam’ or just want to see the part you deemed important in your life. As an example on facebook you do everything exactly same way you do now except you rate you post. You don’t have to post separately in each category, you just post as you do today on fb and it will reach the people who want to see it. As a poster you don’t have different categories to post to, nothing changes for you except rating the post.

BlockquoteThey have to manage 3 levels of contacts/followed and for every post they have to weigh the importancy and make a choice

Yes it requires little more effort but I think, hopefully, this will be compensated by better and cleaner timeline

Well if as an influencer you are worth your salt, people will want to listen your every thought and not just what you deems important. As an influencer you can keep posting whatever you want (As they do today, nothing much changes for them) and people who want to listen they will put influencer in their ‘fam’ folder, others won’t. You don’t choose the audience as influencer, audience chose you, You just try to post quality content. For influencer ‘starred posts’ can act as foot in the door for page awareness.

I totally agree with you that gamification can work for sites where public discussions are important like reddit but I doubt it can in used on fb like website, it will just provide perverse incentive on fb.

Yeah following the hashtag sounds good with hashtags from people you already follow on top.


#4

I fundamentally disagree with this statement, Nikesh! I think the only person who knows the importance of the post is the reader. Period.

Example: take a baby picture that somebody posts. For the poster, this certainly is an important posting. For me as the reader, the importance varies a lot depending on whether it’s a close friend or family member (I might even know the baby!) or if it’s a distant acquaintance whose political postings I like but with whom I have no personal relationship.

I am creating my own Facebook feed by having two tabs: one with a friends list of people whose posts I want to see all the time (close friends, smart posters), and a general tab modified with the plugin Social Fixer that allows me to tweak the algorithm towards a more chronological list of posts. On busy days, I just look at the first of the tabs.