What is the feathering effect and why it affects online communities!

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​I am sure that everyone of you will be wondering what the "feathering effect" is that I am talking about. I can already tell you that it is related to my previous article as to why Facebook is not working anymore for International Friends.

How International Friends work 

International Friends is a social network for expatriates to meet up and make new friends, find useful tips on how to acclimate to their new city. The community helps with questions relating around the life of an expatriate. You can find jobs, second hand marketplace and also a dating site. In short everything an expatriate needs. You can dowload the app of International Friends here: 

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The most important about the social network though are its events. Everyone can create events and everyone can attend any events. And this is where the "feathering effect" takes effect!  

Social networks and how expatriates are using it

​Social Networks are used extensively by expatriates, and there are quite a few that are available. There is Meet-up, Facebook, Twitter etc... to just name a few. They all have drawbacks for Internationals. In Meet-up, you can go to meetings and meet other people and do stuff together but that is often it. You cannot ask questions, there is nobody to help you. 

Facebook is useful in that it has groups where people can ask questions but it is not that good with actually meeting up (and it is turning worse for expats with each new update). Twitter is... good for keeping up with what is happening at home (haven't found any use for Twitter otherwise...). International Friends has been built up so that it will not suffer from the feathering effect ever.

All of them are suffering the effect of feathering (with regards to expats) -  Facebook much more so than Meet-up, which is why I am going to go into details on Facebook. Facebook has, at the time of writing, 2.27 billion monthly active users with 1.5 billion who use it daily (see stats here). Lets say, simply for example sake, that each of them writes on average of 100 words on Facebook per day. That means that you have a content of a staggering 150 billion words PER DAY!

If you calculate that the average book page has 500 words, that is equal to a book of 300 million pages per day. Nobody is going to read that much, nor is it of much interest to most people. So what Facebook came up with is the Newsfeed algorythm. It decides what you will find interesting and keep you glued to Facebook. It measures the interaction that the user has with each posts and then classifies it according to relevance. A score then indicates if it should be displayed on your newsfeed and  where it will be placed(or if you should get a notification). The group algorithm "prepares" the post scoring by adding a scoring for the group where it came from (measured by how many times you went on it in the last two weeks (! That date is important for later on) and how many of your friends are part of it (also important)). (See source here)

The Newsfeed and Groups algorithm is not responsible for the feathering out of the community but it exacerberates it quite massively.

Feathering out occurs because of sociological factors

​Most of you will have, at some point or another, dreamt of being a star. Having fame, money, recognition etc... It is a fundamental nature of human kind. And this is exactly what leads to feathering of the community.

Before I continue on this path of thoughts, let me remind you of another important fact: Facebook groups are easily created and up until 500 people, the users get notified about each new post and each new event etc... meaning that it can create more traction, more interaction easier than a big group (where the newsfeed and group algorythms decide if you get shown what has been happening inside the group).

Now onto the main argument: the feathering effect.

Lets say you have an expatriate community and it is performing really well. You are admin and creating events etc. The people love your group. You have managed to keep it alive past the 500 people hurdle (where the event invitations are downgraded and the notifications are downgraded), past the 1500 people hurdle (where the newsfeed is downgraded) and made it to 5000 people. Everybody in that group knows you as the admin. 

There will be at this point people who will a) be jealous of you or b) not like you. Since it is so easy to create groups, they will open a "competitors" group and simply do the same as you do. They want fame, they want recognition and/or they want money. Who can blame them!

. So now you have two groups which are about the same topic and which are seen by Facebook Newsfeed algorithm as two different entities.

The importance of events in expatriate groups

 As an expatriate, you will have arrived in a new city and will have been lonely at first. So you are trying to meet people, the more the better. So you tend to go to bigger events as it is easy to get to know people (I am talking about events up to 100 to 200, with the possibility of smaller groups forming eg a Round Table event in a bar, or a daytrip). You prefer going to an event where other people are also going to.

Now lets take the example of the two groups above. Because Facebook facilitates the creation of groups, the event invitations from the small group are sent out to everyone, while the big group has to rely on newsfeed and does not perform so well (ie both events reach the same amount of people). So within a very short amount of time, you will not have one well performing and active group (which shows up a lot on Newsfeed as the group algorithm classifies it as performing well) but two groups that are performing mediocre, with mediocre events (Group algorithm will classify them lower, meaning that all else being equal the events will show up less on newsfeed ie reach less people)

 And this is where it goes downhill with the community...

Now that both groups have been classified lower on the group algorithm, they are each showing up less in Newsfeed. They have to compete now as well with Friends and Family at home, advertisements, stuff you joined by mistake etc... That means that even together, both groups still show up less than the one single group did beforehand. So, that means that both groups together will have less people answering the questions, less people going to events and less of pretty much everything. Imagine that there are now 5 different groups all doing the same (or 10 or 20) and that is the end of the community.

Imagine the "bony" end of the feather, loads of activity going on and a lot of happy expatriates. As time progresses (and you move upwards on the feather), the stem gets thinner and thinner, meaning less people are coming to events, while there is more and more meaningless time waste on Facebook (or other social network). Arrived at the top, the community has died pretty much and there are no events happening anymore because nobody is coming to the small events anymore.

Is that the end of groups then?

 Nope it is not. It just means that you will get more of what Facebook is good at, and that is generating content that keeps you glued to Facebook. So, no events anymore, a bit of helpful stuff and loads more rants, stupid things, things where you waste your time and do not move forward with getting integrated in your new city.

And what about International Friends?

International Friends is a social network that has been set up with the feathering effect in mind. It is set up by city (vs Facebook, which is set up globally) and therefore is not subject to such a strong feathering effect. Furthermore, International Friends restricts the amount of groups that are created and has set up the event invitations so that a feathering effect cannot occur. 

If you create an event inside the main part of the community, then everybody will get invited. If you create an event inside one of the themed groups, then only the people within this group will be invited BUT the event will be visible within the upcoming events. You can join the event group and only then can you join the event itself.

We believe that this will stop the effect of feathering as it will treat everyone the same (everyone can create events), regardless if they are admin, have a lot of friends or have no friends. Similarly, everyone can join any event.

Conclusion

The feathering effect is a sociological effect that occurs in social networks. It is based in the wish of each individual to enlarge himself (make himself look better) or to make money. It is exacerberated by the algorithms of Facebook and other social networks. It ultimately means that communities based on groups cannot function for expatriates. Expatriates want to meet up in big groups and get to know new friends, a thing that is becoming increasingly difficult on Facebook.

International Friends has been set up so that everyone is treated the same, regardless of their function within the network (even the network admins are bound by these rules). The group creation is controlled so as to prevent duplicates, further hindering a feathering out of the community.

Have you got any thoughts about it? Do you not agree with me? Then write it down below and lets have a discussion about it. I am happy to learn from other people's experience.

 

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Wednesday, 27 October 2021

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