"People don't want something targeted to the whole world--they want something that reflects what they want to see and know," Sandberg said at publisher Arianna Huffington's Advertising Week event today. So much for all the news that's fit to print - Sandberg's vision of the future sounds more like all the news that's relevant to your taste profile and social graph. Is that emphasis on personalization, which Facebook is better suited to power than any other company in history, a good or bad thing for media and the democracy it ought to fuel?
Your News is Good News
If the Facebook vision of "instant personalization" comes true, media websites and applications will emphasize content that was already shared by your Facebook friends, similar to other content that you yourself have shared on Facebook, or similar to other content that friends have shared. Available content might be privileged because it was published with keywords that appear on your Facebook profile.
The point is - you'll be shown first and foremost content on topics that you have expressed an interest in already, which is described in the same ways you describe your interests and that is deemed valid by people you trust.
The upside? A deep dive into specialized news and analysis, on the topics that are most important to you, will be easier to discover than ever before.
A personalized news service would recognize that those readers have subscribed to that source, that the source delivered that story from that website, whether a reader clicked through the link when they saw it and whether they shared it again with their friends. The more of those conditions that are true, the more likely a super-wonky GPS article will be to appear in their news experience later.
That's fantastic: a new level of subject-level sophistication, detail and efficiency will be available to a wider variety of people than ever before. Reading the news no longer means opening the local newspaper and seeing the lowest-common denominator news that the largest number of people will likely find palatable.
Personalized Media is Bad for the Soul
The other side of the coin is perhaps more familiar: the argument that personalization is an information silo. It leads to self re-enforcing political perspectives, unchecked extremism, a shortage of empathy, stunted learning about the world and a weak democracy.
A personalized media experience might be good for exposure to long-tail content, but it might also be bad for it.
There's something about a highly personalized stream that feels contrary to the public square feeling of a democracy.
Personalized recommendations have long been the holy grail of advertising and commerce, but learning, discourse and media have different goals in mind - don't they? In theory, media is about expanding our horizons more than maximizing conversion rate.
But perhaps media organizations will find a good balance of personalization and general interest content. That might be ideal from a media consumer's perspective, but for publishers enjoying a newfound ability to squeeze more and more pageviews and advertising dollars out of a customer's interest profile - why stop short of 100% personalization?
What do you think about the prospect of extensive media personalization? Do you think it's as likely as Sandberg and Facebook do? Do you think it's likely to be a net positive or negative for those of us on the receiving end? How do you think it might be done well - without coming at too high a price in terms of intellectual narrowing?
Now is a good time to consider these questions, because the era of all the news the algorithm calculates you'll like is very fast approaching.