Facebook and Twitter as social news services

By September 2, 2009 3 Comments

The FT has a great article this morning entitled Friends, not editors, shape internet habits which charts the rise in importance of Twitter and Facebook as news filtering services.  When I wrote about the changing face of news provision on paidcontent last week one problem for traditional businesses I didn’t mention is that the role of newspaper editors in deciding what counts as ‘news’ is fast disappearing.  As the FT argues that role is now passing to our ‘friends’ on Twitter and Facebook.

It has been evident to most people for a while that the amount of content available to us is rapidly increasing as more and more people publish to the web and that we will need more tools than a simple search box to help us find our way through the morass.  This is more commonly called the information overload problem and feed readers, most notably Netvibes, were attempted solutions.

Thinking beyond simple feed readers whose primary function is to allow us to process articles more quickly I have felt for a while that tools which apply some kind of filter to the news are an interesting area.  There are, of course, a number out there already, some of which I use and some of which I don’t – Digg, Friendfeed, and Techmeme spring to mind immediately, but none of these seem to me to be the final answer.

Until recently I have been thinking that the elusive final answer would most likely be a structured site which allows you to input the sources you like and the people you are interested in and then applied some intelligent self learning filters to that stream of incoming content.

It now looks like the winning solution will be a much lower tech, less structured, more anarchic tool than I had expected, and it comes from Facebook and Twitter.  As you probably know one of the most common use cases on these sites is sharing links (see below) and we ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ people as much for the content they provide as because we actually know or like them.  On a personal level I barely use a feed reader these days turning instead to Techmeme, Twitter and occasionally FriendFeed, and within that Twitter is very much on the rise.  Similarly when I look at how people find this blog the referral logs are dominated by Twitter.

imageUsing Twitter and Facebook as gateways to find interesting content is more fun, more serendipitous and a bit less efficient for me as a user than the structured tools I had imagined, and they also benefit from a broader appeal given their simple design, ease of use and inherent flexibility.

There may be a general lesson for web apps lurking here – Craigslist is also a low tech, un-structured and anarchic solution as are delicious, Flickr, and Myspace.  I don’t know how far this argument goes though as the very biggest sites on the web are more structured – Google, Yahoo!, AOL, YouTube, Wikipedia – and Facebook combines chaos with a lot of structure.  Maybe it is only community sites that need to embrace the chaos, and it is for the other sites to figure out how to leverage those communities.