The Great Trending Topics Debacle

Facebook officially killed the Trending Topics program.  It may have been the most foolhardy decision they have made recently (which is amidst a fair share of recent foolhardy steps).

Facebook (through Mark Zuckerberg) famously crystalized the prevalent Silicon Valley thinking into a quotable slogan: Move Fast and Break Things.

Of course, the impetus behind the worldview was that smart, young companies iterate and get products into the market before the competition. It was a reaction to long lead times that didn’t match customers’ expectations.

If it failed, it failedAnd the thinking likely went: if we fail, well, it just means we gotta do something else. But Facebook moved too often, too quickly, without thinking about the macro impact.

Exhibit A: Trending Topics. Facebook had always tried to be more than just the engine where people meet and share information. So it tried to add a layer of news gathering and news promotion. It has always wanted to dabble in media. By thrusting editorial decision-making on this massive platform – the largest collection of humans we have ever seen – it took an engineering approach to a decidedly human problem. The world is a mass of information and no one necessarily agrees to decide to prioritize what is the most important.

That, of course, was a simplistic world view. The arena of editorial decisions is not a place for a multi-billion-dollar company that just wants to keep the peace and count the advertising dollars. Traditional media outlets understand that they can’t appeal to everyone and most don’t try. They also have tend to have years upon years editorial experience that realize it’s not some simple task.

Trending topics is the quintessential example of the Facebookian worldview of “most fast and break things”. People want their news on the Facebook “homepage” – let’s deliver it them. If people don’t like it, we can just quietly remove it. But it didn’t have the experience, patience, and, especially, forethought to make this a successful endeavor. Well, it failed.

And it didn’t just fail. It tarnished Facebook’s image, caused incalculable hours of headaches away from its core mission, and has further jeopardized its relationship with the conservative audience.

Maybe all the planning in the world would haven’t saved trending topics, but I’m pretty sure they’ll put in the prep work the next time they want to do something like this.


Clean Contacts: The Illusive Grail

Among the many unimportant-in-the-scheme-of-world-civilization disruptions that SV is focused on, one of the most pernicious problems remains the world of contacts database management.

People today are changing jobs so often, that it’s impossible to keep track of how to reach people you do not see regularly in person. I’d wager at least 20% of your current contact database is out-of-date.

As someone who routinely obsesses about the cleanliness of my digital data, I’ve tried them all. But each solution has its drawbacks. They all operate on an uneasy plane where absolute perfection (which means every contact is updated the minute someone changes their jobs without those individuals having to do anything) is creepily intrusive. And even with those advanced intrusive apps, they require your network to grant permission. So it is only as good as the opt-ins of your network. No one is crazy enough to retread Plaxo’s steps of trying to spam all of your contacts to get them to sign up.

But any solution that requires individuals to make active edits will fail to be useful. Think about how many people forget to update their LinkedIn accounts. Because people won’t remember. And there’s not the immediate utility in making that change.

I’ve realized now that a contact database can never be a passive, in-the-background intelligent system. It requires more work than you probably want to put into it. It requires your attention and your awareness of who is important and how you can keep track of them. I’m excited to try out Mia Contacts because a) I’m always oddly excited to try our contacts systems and b) it realizes you need to put in the work to make it work. We’ll see how it goes.