Global Web Index published report recently on changing user behaviour on social networks. While people are using it more and more for professional networking and related activities (such as finding/promoting work), they are sharing much lesser about their personal lives.
This phenomenon is called ‘Context Collapse’.
Context collapse is a concept used by academics writing about the effects of social media and the contexts they give rise to. The term refers to the audiences possible online as opposed to limited groups we normally interact with in face-to-face interactions. In those bounded interactions, people adjust their tone and presentation to fit social context. In context collapse, this adjusting becomes impossible (perhaps is even considered irrelevant by some). Behaviours and materials intended for a limited audience can suddenly clash with parts of a wider whole.
In face-to-face communication we assess the context of our interactions in order to decide how we will act, what we will say, and how we will construct (and present) ourselves. When engaged in social interactions, we evaluate situations and people as well as ourselves and how we fit into them. These are necessary to engage in conversation and to be social.
In social media, face work does not have the same currency or value because we don’t see the expressions of those with whom we are communicating. Further, there is context collapse, or homogenization of context, because all of the micro-calculations we used to make by evaluating a situation are gone, removed and collapsed in social media.
Facebook calls it ‘Loss of Original Sharing/Broadcasting’. It means that people are posting fewer things about their personal lives and sharing more about the articles they read or work they had done.
As per article by Amir Efrati, total sharing has declined by 5.5% and Original broadcast sharing has been down by 21% as of mid-2015. Original broadcast are key to survival for social networks since they bring in continuous user engagement with it in terms of likes, comments.
This behaviour is attributable to the way how Facebook (or any other social platform) has evolved over time. Initially, it started with group of friends sharing personal content over Facebook (like the trip you had or music concert you attended). Sooner, Facebook invited people to connect with more via recommendations/lists of suggested people. So, every person you interacted with, have eventually become part of your Facebook group, thus it no longer becomes the place to share your personal updates. If you add news updates and advertisements to it, it becomes noisy marketplace pretty much like twitter.
Once diversity of audience increases, personalized context collapses on social networks as Fred Stuzman shows below.
Facebook is adopting various tactics to stem this decline such as tweaking news feed algorithms or improving android app or prompting users to share photos/videos as soon as they login. It also sends reminders on ‘special’ days to remind people of sharing.
While verdict is yet to be out whether these are effective to reverse the trend, people seems to prefer to go back where it all started – ‘face-to-face interactions and personal touch’.