As they always do, new Facebook changes have brought with them a load of complaints along with some praise. One big complaint is that this new “Ticker” (a realtime stream of all activity by friends, including their interactions with other friends) has a lot of noise in it.
“I don’t care what my friends do with these strangers,” go some complaints. “It is irrelevant to me. It clutters up my stream.”
I have over 1,000 friends on Facebook, so I can sympathize with the desire to have an orderly news stream. However, I find the noise and static to be a small price to pay for what, I believe, is ultimately a public good: serendipity.
One of the pathologies driven in part by our narrow-casted lifestyle is that we never (or only rarely) have any reason to come into contact ideas unlike those we already hold, arts different than those we already like, politics unlike those to which we already adhere, or even people unlike us in any way. Bill Bishop has described this phenomenon in detail in his hugely important work, The Big Sort.
While the Big Sort is not caused solely by Internet effects, the online world enables and acts as an accelerant for some of the problems that it poses for public life. Therefore, I am in general in favor of things that might increase the chance that I will encounter something I would not have otherwise sought out. By slightly opening up the “Facebook firehose” of data, I see interactions between people I don’t necessarily know. Some of those may interest me enough to dig deeper and engage. Some may not.
I feel the upside is good enough for public life that I can put up with the downside of a certain amount of irrelevance and noise.