Howells.

Intrinsic vs extrinsic delineation of content, or, my problem with Facebook

In my opinion, Facebook is one of the most beautiful and refined products across all platforms from the website to the iPhone app. Yet I barely spend an hour a week on it.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to understand why that is, and it boils down to two points:

  • There is no presentational delineation between intrinsically, and extrinsically, shared content
  • Timeline works beautifully for beautifully curated content

When I started using Facebook, I loved the fact that all the content on it was about my friends. Very simply and quickly, I could discover what they were up to, what they planned to do, or what they thought about stuff. The kinds of conversations that I had on the site were akin to the kind of conversations I might have in a pub.

In a pub, you talk about things that affect you, other people, or about things. The discussions and dialog you have is intrinsic sharing – sharing and discussing things that are very personal to you.

What you wouldn’t do is turn up to the pub with a bunch of DVDs, maybe some magazines, yesterday’s newspaper, and your Xbox. You also probably wouldn’t be standing there listening to Spotify on your iPhone. That’d just be rude.

You then wouldn’t start handing these items out to other random people in the pub, often in total silence.

All this stuff is very extrinsic to you. While you may feel that the a movie was great, it doesn’t really “define” who you are; you liking a particular news article is interesting, but doesn’t really say a great deal about you. All this stuff is extrinsic to you as an individual.

But for me this is what Facebook has become. Sure, you can still hold the sort of conversations and exchanges you could have a few years ago, but suddenly this is surrounded by a messy pile of impersonal, quite meaningless stuff. My Facebook feed is littered with videos, music, links and assorted random stuff, such that the interesting intrinsic, personal content is hidden.

I’d love Facebook to explore how to make the separation between intrinsic and extrinsic sharing clear and compelling.

Path, for instance, is the pinnacle of intrinsic sharing. You can’t share any content that isn’t directly related to you as an individual. Twitter is the pinnacle of extrinsic sharing, in that it works for sharing, yet few choose Twitter to be the place where they expose very personal content.

I’m not saying that Facebook isn’t the place to share good content – it is – but it could easily occupy that awkward space in the middle, balancing the nature of content shared by your friends so you can easily find out a) what your friends are doing and feeling, and b) what content is interesting or fun. But Timeline – which is perfect for conveying personal content in a compelling way – breaks down when random articles and funny videos are brought added to the chronology.

When Facebook announced Timeline, the example mockups were stunning: carefully curated profiles with stunning imagery. It’s purpose – to capture and present personal memories in a beautiful way – was instantly obvious. On go live, my own profile and that of plenty of others looked like a mess. Flippant, throw-away remarks that I don’t care to remember sit oddly alongside a holiday photo album, which in turn sits next to a YouTube video.

What I’d love to see is what happens if the Timeline presented the personal content people choose to share, but then associated to this is a dossier or self-curated magazine about the things I find interesting: the music, movies, events, articles, and other content that surround my life but which don’t constitute it.

Comments — 2

Jordan Koschei on January 27 — 10:13 pm #

Brilliant article. I knew there was a difference between Timeline as it was presented and Timeline as I’ve experienced it, but I could never put my finger on the problem - here it is, plain as day.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), the only aspect of Facebook that can be monetized is inherently extrinsic – you can’t sell a person a piece of themselves, so there’s no ad money to be found in the stuff that really matters. What we end up with is a platform that pigeonholes people into the brands that they enjoy and the products that they use. The danger is that we’ll begin seeing people that way in the real world, too.

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