There is a great deal of discussion about “The Open Web”, the one that takes place, generally, in a browser and where access to all information is approximately equal, vs the closed web, which takes place generally in apps. Adding to this discussion is how people consume their news increasingly on Facebook, giving them the ability to curate their information to their interest and “likes”.
I’ve noted a number of debates on this subject to assess the potential societal impact of many people’s experience with the internet being more curated or controlled by outside sources. One point I hear often is how most people don’t know any better. In fact, they like their content curated beause it’s easier to digest. Newspapers, historically, were somewhat of a signpost here as they had a slant that appealed to certain people. News channels are similar, with Fox News being a prime example, of news with an angle or a bias. It is designed to cater to specific types of people. For many consumers, it is simply easier to digest information aligned to your interests, beliefs, philosophies, etc. Note, I’m not insinuating this is all people but, generally speaking, there are large numbers who like their content a specific way.
We can argue the role Facebook plays in this but a research project revealed an interesting statistic when it comes to young people and their news consumption on Facebook. This was how I framed the data point:
Facebook has become a nearly ubiquitous part of Digital Millennial Life. On 24 separate news and information topics probed, Facebook was the No. 1 gateway to learn about 13 of those and the second-most cited gateway for seven others.
Facebook is not the only social network Millennials use for news. On average, those surveyed get news from more than three social media platforms — including YouTube (83%), Twitter (65%), and Instagram (50%)
Increasingly, Facebook is becoming a primary source for millennials to hear about the news. They then talk and engage within their community. Any general look at your Facebook feed would reveal this is likely true with many demographics, not just millennials.
The Web Got Too Big
As I step back and think about where this might go, it’s worth observing that, perhaps, people are not just trying to curate or close themselves off to the bigger web intentionally. Perhaps the web just got too big. During the course of discovery, there became simply too much choice.
A highly recommended read is a book called the Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. In this book, the author outlines how too much choice can often leave people incapacitated to make a decision. The volume of choice is simply so overwhelming the act of decision making itself begins to feel like a burden. Sometimes, limited options are actually easier for people to comprehend and make a decision.
Often I feel this burden when searching the web. While the breadth and depth of choice offers the widest array of options, the act of narrowing the decision can feel exhausting or lead to deeper rabbit holes that feel like a waste of time. If you search a news story or recipe or any subject, Google presents you with so many options that deciding where to invest your time, on which story, on which site, etc., can feel burdensome. Much trial and error precedes the search.
So perhaps what people are saying with a more curated web experience is, either through social media or specific purpose apps, there is simply too much choice on the web and that discovery, along with the thrill of it, has become more of a chore than a delight.
This conversation, while interesting, is no more than a series of “what ifs”. But it is at times like these where thinking through some logical possible conclusions is helpful while looking forward into the future.