Right now on most social networks, you either get every update a person posts, or you get an algorithmic timeline that selects what it thinks are some of the best posts from your favorite users.
The problem is that we follow different people for different reasons. When it comes to the people I know in real life, I don’t care about their political views. I don’t want their commentary on the latest news thing. I do want to know what’s going on in their life. However, right now following someone is an all or nothing proposition. If I unfollow a political post, I don’t see anything from them. If I like or comment on an apolitical life update, I start seeing everything from them.
Likewise, there are a few people I follow specifically for social commentary, whose view of world events highly interest me. I’d like to see their posts on current events, but only at certain times. The time I’m in a mood to read deep commentary is different than when I want to see friend’s life updates, and I don’t want the two interspersed. Right now, the two are mixed together, creating a bizarre bounce between political rants, and happy life moments, often not from the people you actually want either from.
The solution to this would be categories – giving users the ability to indicate what category your post was in, and letting your audience filter accordingly. There are multiple ways you could do this – creating a separate timeline for politics, personal, work, and other types of updates, or having one timeline, but letting users determine what kind of updates they want from whom.
For example, I know a lot of people follow me because they’re interested in my film work. They don’t really need to hear my life updates, or political views. If there was a way I could indicate which posts were film updates, so that I didn’t lose followers who were only interested in that, it’d help me as a creator. There are certainly a lot of creators whose work I’d like to follow, but all they do is tweet about politics, and I’m not interested in political commentary from someone just because I saw them in a movie once.
This is actually the way things used to be. Most people did not talk about politics or share their baby photos with every person they met, or strangers. It wasn’t until Facebook began prioritizing news articles in their algorithm that we began learning the political views of everyone we knew. Social media putting every aspect of a persons personality in one timeline is actually what helped polarize the country. I’m not sure that pandora can be put back in the box, but a little filtering couldn’t hurt.
So far, the closest I’ve seen with is Gab, with it’s use of categories and the ability to mute words, but there is still some room to improve (for example, giving to option to only see posts from users you follow in each category, or allowing users to create custom timelines with certain conditions). Plus, like any new social network, growth is slow. Most of the people I know are still on Facebook and Instagram, and slow to change because… well, everyone else they know is also on those platforms.
Social networks are perhaps the most dominant form of communication in our culture now. The way these networks filter that communication goes beyond a feature into how social interaction is organized. A feature like this would allow people to connect over the things they have in common, and not have to accept a persons updates as an all or nothing proposition.