Impact of Design: Link previews in Facebook feed and how it changed the world

General

An example of the impact of design choices and the evolution of habits around them.

When we post a link on Facebook, it shows us a preview of that link right here in the feed before we even click on it. Can we imagine what the world would be like today if Facebook had never implemented link preview?

This was a design decision Facebook made in 2008 when people went beyond posting just status updates on their Facebook. The goal was to make it easier to see what the link points to so we can decide if it’s worth clicking.

Then over time we started to trust the headline, image, and description enough that we didn’t see much value in clicking on the link. We also started to see a lot more links in our feeds and we didn’t want to click on each one. Also, it is always gong to be faster to browse Facebook if we never clicked on any links. Especially within the apps. So it slows down our dopamine wagon when we click on a link and wait for a page to load and we don’t like to wait.

But when we stopped clicking on links, the producers of the content stopped getting traffic. So they started tweaking the headlines, images, and description to stand out more in your Facebook feed. FB initially allowed a lot of customization. e.g. The headline in the feed preview didn’t even have to match the headline on the web page. This accelerated the attention war – distortions and click bait were needed to counter our laziness to click on links within the Facebook feed. Also, Facebook always has a disincentive in helping us get off Facebook. So deep down it never really wants us to click on a link. Unless it’s sponsored and earns them revenue.

Over the last few years, we have stopped going to the sources of information directly. Everything comes curated from our social media feeds. But because of the added friction, the extra step of representation, and the more time we now spend inside apps, we are engaging with websites in a fundamentally different way than we used to.

What if today, just for a day, the link previewer in our Facebook feed stopped working. Look at your feed. Imagine no website previews. Just text links everywhere. Wouldn’t we automatically feel less stressed? Then we realize that’s why people like Instagram. No links ☺️

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