It’s not a popular opinion in the startup world, but I love the idea of Facebook being regulated. I don’t doubt that it would be terrible for the kind of “value creation” that has fueled the last decade of startups, but it’s interesting to imagine how products–and the way we build products–would change in that scenario, even if it’ll probably never happen.
I still need to read Tim Wu’s new book that looks at this from an antitrust angle. That I suspect will focus largely on structural changes like breaking Instagram and WhatsApp into separate companies. But what if regulation went deeper into the product?
The Facebook timeline is a huge attention well. And Facebook have been manipulative stewards of that attention. Imagine a scenario where just as Microsoft had to give users a choice of browser, Facebook had to give users a choice of filtering algorithm. Here’s your Facebook feed, as mediated by any number of third party algorithms of your choosing.
Maybe you choose the algorithm that kept you up-to-date on your friends’ lives, without the emotional clickbait to keep you hooked. Maybe you choose the timeline that balances media content from across the political spectrum. Or fine, go off the deep-end, let the political outlet of your choice feed you all the spin.
I’d like to believe that in a world of competing timelines, the owners of algorithms would be more transparent about their designs. Meanwhile, Facebook would still control the graph and the advertising (maybe revenue shared with the timeline providers), unless the advertising is forced to compete as well.
Is this future going to happen? No. Definitely not. But a future where we have control over how the content we consume is fed to us is one I’d embrace.