in Social Media

Social Sharing and the Art of Not Reading

As some of you might know I read articles every day to keep up to date on what is happening in Social Business (if you didn’t know, consider following me on Twitter for a continuous stream of interesting articles). Most often I just share the articles and sometimes I just add a few words as a comment to the article. However this morning I was reading on entrepreneur.com  an article which contained so many false assumptions that I thought it was worth a longer response. Especially since it addresses a common problem I see often when people are getting started with Social Business.

Zuckerberg’s Law of Information Sharing

The article is based on Zuckerberg’s Law of  Information Sharing, which states  that every year twice the information will be shared that was shared in the year earlier. So  if you like to think in graphs: it is one steep exponential line moving up fast to the right top corner. This is of course a crazy power law, however till now it is still true and is not likely to stop especially with trends introduced by Facebook such as frictionless sharing. However there might be a concern, since if sharing grows exponentially do we need to spend also twice the amount of time on consuming all the content, or as Benedict Evans phrased it in the article:

Let’s say the average Facebook user is awake for 17 hours a day. To consume all that stuff, they would take in 88 new items per hour, or 1.5 things per minute. That’s just not possible.

“The problem they’ve run into, the problem of sharing, of Zuckerberg’s law,” says Evans, “is that the News Feed has turned into a black hole and collapsed under its own weight.”

However this argument has one fundamental flaw: the assumption that people need and want to read every single piece of content being shared on Facebook (or any other platform).

Not Reading is of all Ages

You might be disappointed: but nobody is reading everything you share online, unless you have a creepy stalker. We scan, it is not like we are all glued to our screen in a Ludovico technique like way. So basically there isn’t an issue, since we are already not reading everything. With twice the content being shared we will just read the same amount and miss more. Is this a bad thing? No, since good content will surface in your network anyways whether or not Facebook has a proper algorithm for it. Since Zuckerberg’s law is not about unique content shares, it is about shares in general and a lot of shares will be about the same content.

We shouldn’t see Facebook, or in general the Web, as a book which has a beginning and end and should be read so. The days that we could read the Web completely and check every new website is almost twenty years ago. If we go back a bit more in time: as soon as the printing press went mainstream there were all of a sudden more books produced than we could read. Nobody has ever been complaining about a literary overload  of books.

We are comfortable with it, we accept the fact that we cannot read the Web or every book in the library or every newspaper. However Evans seems to think that we have some kind of content craving on Facebook where we want to consume every like, share and picture shared by our friends and suffer from information gluttony.  People might be your friend on Facebook though it doesn’t mean you want to read everything that they share. Facebook helps in consumption by creating automatic groups, by allowing you to create your own groups and by their edge rank algorithm to rank content (such algorithm are a debate on their own because they can cause a filter bubble).

How to Start with not Reading

You are responsible for your own content flow and therefore for your own information overload. Not Facebook, not your friends, not a penguin on Madagascar, it is you who has this responsibility, don’t blame others for your won failure. You are the one who make the decision to connect with people, to subscribe to their updates, to be part of groups, to like pages, you are the one who defines what content you get from some people.  However this is the hard part: who to connect with, who is valuable and what is their added value. The only way to find this out is not by doing a year long research (since as said before: shared content will be doubled by then), but by doing it and by killing your darlings. Sometimes a relation (how superficial a digital connection might be) just doesn’t work out in the way you expected it to.

Not reading is not a sin, it is not a sign of being not interested in your friends. It is about spending your time wisely and spending your time on the things that really matter for you, including your friends. Which means that if you spend time on reading the updates of your friend, you really are interested in it, instead that is just another message that you have to consume to come to the end of your reading list that day. If you don’t make the decision what is valuable for you, everything is without value and you will treat it as something without value.

The Web or Facebook in particular was not designed as a book, it doesn’t have an end, it is a stream. Complaining that you cannot read everything anymore is like complaining that the river doesn’t dry up after you drank from it for an hour. Streams don’t dry up, they flow. Dip in to get the things that matter, however don’t drown yourself in content.