A brief rant about Facebook: I hate the fact that the news feed defaults to “Top Stories” even though I change it back to “Most Recent” every time I log in. It’s a horrible pattern of user abuse that needs to stop. Time is time and that is that.
So why does Facebook feel the need to jiggle things about into a random order? Well most of you have that mobile phone app of theirs that sucks your battery and your data allowance like crazy (mainly by auto-playing videos like a dick). They know you’re checking your Facebook on the loo at work and that that limits your interaction time. During this precious interlude they want you to see the stuff that they think interests you and the things that other people paid for you to see. You’re going to see some hick’s new tattoo, at least one photo of someone else’s child and an advert telling you to vote Conservative - whether you like it or not.
This behaviour is spreading. Twitter is trying it too. They’ve introduced a “while you were away” doodad that completely undermines the point of Twitter. Twitter exists to disseminate short, disposable, time-sensitive information in public. The “while you were away” feature is a bit like watching week old episodes of the ten o’clock news on iPlayer.
Imagine if newspapers suppressed recent events in order to tell you who to vote for and distract you with idle gossip about celebrities that history will wash away like sandcastles on a beach. Oh they already exist and they’re all of them.
Imagine if your mobile provider decided to send your texts to you in the wrong order for reasons that suited their business model. You get a message from your spouse asking you to pick them up from work ten hours late: No wonder they’re sitting in bed next to you silently fuming and won’t talk to you.
(Obviously some mobile phone networks - like, for instance, Three in Chichester - are running an experimental version of this kind of service. I doubt that it will catch on, despite its evident value in avoiding calls from recruiters.)
There are real-time messaging apps that can’t mess around with the chronology of events. Facebook has one - and owns the other one that most people use. Meanwhile Facebook also owns Instagram which, for the time being, doesn’t muck around with user timelines.
The rise of video streaming apps like Twitch (for video games) and Periscope or Meerkat (for showing people the inside of your fridge) might help to set things right. You can’t disrupt a live stream without annoying the viewer, you’d have to do what YouTube is doing more often and that’s showing ads ahead of videos. Mind you, that’s annoying enough as it is. Time marches forward, it’s too precious to spend changing news feed setting and watching damned adverts.