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Never nothing to see. Algorithmic feeds or an inbox?

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook always have something to show you. Whether it is posts you’ve already seen, posts from people you never asked for, or sponsored content and recommendations that you don’t care for. It doesn’t matter if the people you care about posted something new or not — the platform will always have something for you, and it’ll always be new.

A while back, I switched from Twitter to TweetDeck for the non-algorithmic, true chronological feed of tweets. While doing so made sure that I saw everything and not just what the platform was boosting, it also made me realize that there wasn’t always something new to see. Twitter had been making me believe that there was.

Empty state on feedly. No more articles left to read.

My next step was to read Twitter along with the rest of my feeds on Feedly. This was even better, not only was I reading them chronologically, but Feedly would let me know once I had ready everything and didn’t show me the same content again.

This wasn’t just a shift from an algorithmic feed to reverse-chronological one. It was a shift from the news stream pattern to the inbox pattern. The news stream never stops and it is always trying to keep us engaged. An inbox is different — sometimes we open our inbox and there is nothing to see.

Imagine if our email inbox showed us an old email when there were no new emails just to keep us engaged — we’d lose our minds, we’d never really know when we’re done with our email. The inbox pattern is meant for processing and clearing, it puts the focus on what we want to get done. The news stream pattern is meant for engagement and keeping us on the site for long, it puts the focus on what is good for the platform.

Engagement per se isn’t a bad thing but certain engagement tactics may make us do things that we don’t necessarily want. I’ve been much happier treating my feed like an inbox, happy in the fact that there is nothing more to see!

Feed Me

I haven’t posted on Facebook or Twitter in a while. I see my feed sometimes and use Facebook chat (over BitlBee) regularly. The recent scare about privacy probably triggered this, but I must confess that I don’t understand it fully. Not understanding is scary.

In my time away, I realized that I wasn’t missing anything. I no longer had to decide whether the person I met once at that café was a friend, no longer had to see what my 2nd grade classmate ate for lunch, and no longer scrolled past every  update my favorite game studio made to their new release.

I was still following blogs using Feedly, so I knew what my sister was eating, what Yuvi was hacking on, and what Super Pietpiet was drawing. I could see that effort was taken to create this content and I felt better consuming it. No one was limited to 140 characters and Facebook didn’t forcefully crop their pictures into a square.

There was one thing that I continued liking about these sites though — they had a feed of my life.

This feed wasn’t complete or accurate, and though limited by the time I was active on these sites, it was a good record. I posted links that I wouldn’t be interested in now, photos that’d embarrass me, and status updates that could have altogether been avoided, but, those things were truly what I was doing and thinking then. Only after a grueling conversation with Arun, and later Rhea, did I become comfortable with this annoying past self. Arun even convinced me that the worst that could happen by continuing this is that I’d have something to laugh about later. That didn’t sound too bad.

And so I continue to embarrass the future me — by maintaining this blog, on my server, rather than elsewhere. I made this theme so that I am not limited to full text posts. With Sid’s help, _s, and ACF, I was able to setup multiple post types. I can post check-ins, photos, quotes, statuses and albums like most social networks. I have complete control over how they look, right down to the tiles I want to use in the map. I like to call this theme Feed Me — it gives me the flexibility to add even more post types and the freedom to make them look the way I want.

Oh, and most importantly, in a dire situation I can delete everything on my server and all the embarrassment along with it.