I had a simple realization this past month: when I visit my social media sites, I don’t see what I want to see.

On Facebook, I want to see pictures and personal updates from my family and close friends. On Twitter, I want to see what’s new in the web community. I want to see what people are talking about and what new techniques and ideas I can incorporate into my own work. On LinkedIn, I want to see messages from people interested in a valuable network partnership or working with me.

Each of these social networks consistently disappoints my expectations. Each network has adopted an algorithm that in theory is programmed to show me the content that I would most like to see. In reality, each network is trying it’s hardest to serve me the content that is most likely to provoke a response (click, like, comment, share) while carefully mixing in the highest amount of advertiser messages that they think I can tolerate.

The bottom line is that while, yes, these algorithms are tailored for me, I am just a means to the networks’ own ends. The final goal of the algorithms is to increase shareholder value for each network, to squeeze as many dollars as they can out of my eyeballs. As a user, I am a means to that end. I am not the end.

And so these networks promote content that is shocking, outraging, emotional, that is most likely to confirm my own biases (or the biases that the algorithm assumes I have). They promote content lowest common denominator content–the content that the most people are likely to engage with and promote it to me just because everybody else likes it.

This content falls into familiar patterns:

I can’t believe ${my political enemy} is so ${synonym for stupid or evil}.

I can’t understand how ${group of people} can think ${arguable idea}.

Something happened that I didn’t like and I want to see how many people will also be angry about this.

While anger can be useful, experienced every day it is exhausting. And it appears we have a shared cultural delusion that an inability to understand someone who disagrees with you is a virtue, rather than a sign that you don’t have the mental capacity to entertain two opposing thoughts or you lack the empathy required to listen to another human being.

Ingesting this content at regular intervals throughout the day is not what is going to make the human race better than it was yesterday.

At the very least, it’s not helping me become a better version of myself. I don’t want to see things that make me angry or disgusted or indignant. What I want to see is content that makes me think, teaches me something new, encourages silent reflection, and gives me hope for the future of humanity. And sometimes, I don’t want to see anything at all.

I want a human curated web experience. I don’t want my experience curated by mysterious algorithms. I want to curate it myself. To try to create this more human-centered experience, I’m going to experiment replacing my social media intake with RSS feeds. With this method, I can still follow people whose thoughts and opinions I am interested in. My hypothesis is that by following these indiviudals’ blogs instead of social media feeds will accomplish two things:

  1. I will see more higher-quality content, because it will appear in chronological order instead of being hidden by obscure algorithms.
  2. Following blogs rather than social media profiles will act as an auto-filter for some of the more emotional, outrage-laden, ill-conceived content, since blogs require more effort and authors are more careful about blog content vs. content they retweet.

I’ve been running the experiment for the past few days and so far I’m really happy with it. I see the thoughtful, interesting content I’m looking for and rarely see the inflammatory content I’m looking to avoid.

This is my first step in humanizing my experience of the web. I’m working on a roadmap for making my experience of the web more human-centered. It also includes implementing more IndieWeb principles here on my blog.

So far my roadmap looks like this:

  1. Switch content consumption medium from social media to RSS ✔️.
  2. Implement POSSE (Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere) so that the content I publish here isn’t limited to my own silo.
  3. Extend the updates on my home page with micropub functionality.
  4. Replace the disqus comments on blog posts with webmentions.

My hope is that by humanizing my little corner of the web, I can raise some awareness and get others interested in humanizing their own web experience. And maybe it will help us all live a little more peacefully together.


Have any comments or questions about this post? Send them to me via email hi@benrobertson.io or on Twitter @banquos_ghost.