dom hofmann

some problems with reposting

october 3, 2018

note: the use of the word "feed" here can mean timeline, newsfeed, list of stories, whatever.

the ability to repost content from your feed to the feeds of your followers is a standard feature in lots of socialish apps. when you're building one of these apps, it can make a lot of sense to include this feature. reposting has two big benefits:

1) it allows non-creators to become "lite" creators. people that are contributing little to no original content to the platform can now contribute their *curation* to the platform.

2) it exposes everyone on the platform to new content and creators they might have otherwise missed.

in both cases, the idea is that these benefits will help retain more people using the app, which (along with growth) is sort of the universal business goal of the entire thing. that hypothesis is probably true. it certainly was with vine. but it's easy to get caught up in the short term benefits and move ahead without thinking about the problems that reposting can introduce later.

some of them:

- gaming popularity

any socialish app with a public network component (and most that can benefit from reposting probably do have a public network component) will have a portion of creators that will work hard for popularity. most of this will occur through intended behavior ("create good content and engage, and the people will come"), but some of it will come through less anticipated means. reposting is an interaction between at least two people on your service, which means it’s ideal for trading. an innocent case of this might be one person agreeing to repost another person's content for reciprocity in the future. no big deal, and probably something to be encouraged. but it can become more difficult to gauge when it grows to large groups of people agreeing to do the same, and quite problematic if these groups hold a disproportionate amount of attention on your app, allowing them to act as effective gatekeepers who decide the popularity of new creators. even worse if and when some groups decide to charge for it.

- devaluation of original content creation

reposting is easy and feels good. as a form of contribution to your app, it's especially great for lifetime non-creators, who are now upgraded to lite creators. but it may also encourage people who may have created original content in the future to never do so, or even encourage existing creators to create less in favor of reposting. (a similar problem with devaluation comes up with impressions vs. likes vs. direct engagement, but that's for another time.)

- dilution of the intended feed

in a "pure" socialish app, the idea is that you see stuff created by the people you follow. this is easy to understand and gives you decent control over the shape of your experience, which mostly centers around the feed. reposting typically dilutes this experience, by introducing content not just from the people you follow, but also the people *they* follow, and more than likely the people **they** follow. not unlike ads, this can introduce friction while you make it through your feed. in the long term it can even contribute to feeds that move too quickly to keep up with, which can contribute to the need for algorithmic sorting (also for another time), at which point you’re so far down the rabbit hole that your algorithm might weight reposted content *more* than followed content.

- amplification of viewpoints

not a problem with everyone (and not always a problem), but reposting can amplify and normalize extreme viewpoints that might have otherwise been constrained to a smaller group of followers. this becomes more problematic because reposts don’t have to endorse the viewpoints they draw attention to, and sometimes attempt to do the exact opposite. but, even with zero side effects, the absolute best outcome of an unendorsed repost would be no change in the original creator’s audience. more likely is that the original creator will see their audience grow to some degree from *all* reposts, regardless of the repost’s intent. this is the likely outcome even if the app allows the reposter to “quote” the original post and recontextualize or react to it, even though that particular pattern encourages unendorsed (or even critical) reposts.


this isn’t a conclusive list, and the point isn’t whether or not these issues are fixable (they are), or if sometimes the trade offs are worth it (they can be), but rather that it’s always a good idea to be more thoughtful about features like reposting before implementing them. sometimes the obvious levers for growth later open up the unexpected levers for breakage.