With recent news that Twitter is moving towards a Facebook-style filtered feed, we start to see the convergence of the various social networks towards an unhappy bland uniformity. But, I wonder if there is a deeper take-away here, insofar as given a) a particular set of features, and b) a certain set of business requirements, the design space for social networks is surprisingly limited. Using filtered feed as an example, if individual users have a relatively high degree (feature), and “engagement” on the site is important (business requirement), a filtered feed is the only result.
On a deeper level, I have always worked in a mindset that for a given problem, the design space is vast and mostly unexplored. I believed that there was always the choice to make a sharp left turn and wander far enough to find another local maxima that satisfies the requirements, but is also radically different from the original design. This, plus trying to think through another problem, has made me start to wonder about a model of scarcity in the design space. In particular, there are two big drivers of scarcity, especially in the social network context: the limitations and foibles of humans and business imperatives. For human limitations, we have a short attention span, and a shorter memory; for business imperatives, the system needs to be able to serve up ads that get at least a bit click-through.
All of this means that the case may be that Facebook has actually found the global maxima of the social network design space, and it will be very hard for something else to come along that offers a compelling design alternative. The Feed is our King.