The return to now

“Gone from our feeds is the feeling of now-ness that made the real-time web so enthralling for many of us in the early days of the social media boom. This does not seem to be lost on the major social platforms.”

In the past two years, we witnessed the algorithmically ranked News Feed that Facebook popularized colonize most of the remaining social platforms of influence. (With the exception of Snapchat…for the moment.)

In a sense, our feeds have always been algorithmically ranked; they’ve just been dominated by one variable in particular: time. In a simple reverse chronological feed, the punishment of bad behavior is left to the user — in the form of the unfollow or unfriend. That’s work, and as these platforms scaled beyond early adopters, it’s likely that most new users, rather than doing that work, chose to use the product less. So today, machines do that work for us, and all that’s left for us to do is Like, Comment, or Follow new people.

So now we’re lost in time. Gone from our feeds is the feeling of now-ness that made the real-time web so enthralling for many of us in the early days of the social media boom.

This does not seem to be lost on the major social platforms. “Messaging apps are now bigger than social networks” (though they are also, of course, owned by the social networks). On the back of major improvements in bandwidth, mobile processing power, and mobile battery technology, they are making major investments in Live Everything. Stories have changed the game for Snapchat and Instagram, and they don’t fit neatly into our understanding of “the feed.”

Breakout hits like the trivia app HQ remind us of that feeling of now-ness and community that once was pervasive. Sure, games tend to feel like flashes in the pan, until we look back and realize that embedded in that flash were the embers of some new truth. What can news organizations learn from a shortform live video experience broadcast at the same time every night (as eerily familiar as that sounds)?

Humans crave intimacy and connection, and that intimacy feels somewhat lost in the Age of the Feed — where presence has taken a backseat. In 2018, news organizations that want to stay a step or two ahead of the game might want to focus less on optimizing for a constantly changing set of Feed Rules, and think more about experimenting with Now.

Jake Levine is a venture fellow at betaworks and a former general manager of Digg.

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