Why Google’s feed succeeds when Facebook’s fails

Google's virtual assistant

With Google adding its Discover feed to its famously minimalist homepage (on mobile, at least), Wired asks: “Will its news feed encounter the same problems as Facebook’s feed?”

I have been using the news feed that appears in Google’s app for years now (first as Google Now, more recently as the discover tab in the main Google app). Even as my disgust at what Facebook offers me has grown and grown, I have not found the same sorts of problems polluting Google’s news feeds.

For a while now I have wished Google’s feed could be available on desktop, because I find it so surprisingly helpful. As well as anticipating the sorts of information I might be looking for, it brings me genuinely interesting and useful articles from a wide variety of sources that I may not otherwise have seen.

It is interesting to note from the Wired article that analysts appear to back this up:

The [Reuters Institute] report says more people now discover news through algorithms than human editors, and that instead of narrowing viewpoints; creating echo chambers, this seems to in fact be exposing those users to a greater range of sources than they’d normally use.

The main problem with Facebook is the way that bad articles rip their way through the site like wildfire via shares and likes. Certain types of article are more likely to be shared than others.

Facebook has a bad reputation because it chases the wrong metrics. It measures everything in likes and shares. That’s because the dopamine hit makes people addicted. So people start chasing likes over meaningful interactions.

This provides a hint as to why Twitter is considering ditching likes from its platform.

Google, meanwhile, appears to have got round this — partly by not asking people to like things.

Throughout its history, Google has focused on what people really want from it. This is why its search engine has been so wildly successful.

Google became so good at it, that it began to reasonably predict what I might be coming to it for. Nowadays it is bringing me things that I didn’t even know I wanted. That is seriously impressive.

Likes and retweets are transient. They bring temporary pleasure, but it leaves us feeling worse off in the long run.

Facebook is serving us crack. Google is making us bread.

4 comments

  1. Does that ‘seriously impressive’ ever make you seriously concerned about how they were able to make such recommendations? It makes me wonder about the shadow profile that Google are building? I prefer my own feed. That is how I found this post. It wasn’t via Google, it was via my own network.

    Also on: Read Write Collect

  2. The shadow profile that Google are building doesn’t mark it out from any of the other tech giants (or even the aspirations of some considerably smaller tech companies). The difference to me is that Google offer me a useful product, whereas (for example) Facebook do not. For me, that’s a reasonable trade-off.

    Also, I don’t use Google as a replacement for my feed. It complements it; I use both.

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