Rob Horning writes a masterful bedunking of Facebook’s newest tweaks to the News Feed, and the company’s slimy efforts to keep its users lashed to their oars:
excerpted from the article
Facebook recently changed its News Feed algorithm, which determines which content users see of all the stuff shared by the other users they have elected to follow. Traditionally, Facebook has veiled its algorithm in secrecy, even going so far as to disavow “EdgeRank,” an earlier name for this algorithm. But this time (as ReadWrite notes) Facebook has decided to accompany the round of algorithm tweaks with a propaganda post about the company’s benevolent intentions. It’s as nauseating as you’d expect, full of cheerful insistence about how hard the company is working to try to give users what they want, which is its doublespeak for making users think they want what Facebook wants for them.
The goal of News Feed is to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them. Ideally, we want News Feed to show all the posts people want to see in the order they want to read them … With so many stories, there is a good chance people would miss something they wanted to see if we displayed a continuous, unranked stream of information. Our ranking isn’t perfect, but in our tests, when we stop ranking and instead show posts in chronological order, the number of stories people read and the likes and comments they make decrease.
That sounds noble enough, but you can see what really matters to Facebook — that you feed it likes and comments and so on. It’s going to rig your feed to extort the most interaction (a.k.a. free immaterial labor) from you. It also wants to be able to control what it programs for your delectation so that it can sell your attention span to whoever is willing to bid for it. The News Feed algorithm is what enables the sponsored stories racket, in which you have to pay to assure that your friends will actually be displayed the material you share.
The claim that Facebook wants to give you what you want also makes no logical sense, given that Facebook decides what you think is important only on the basis of what you have already seen and liked on Facebook, ignoring the possibility that you could want something it hasn’t already cajoled your friends into sharing. Instead it takes the even more dispiriting position that most of what is posted on its site is spam, and you should be grateful that Facebook is willing to protect you from the morons you have chosen to friend and their interminable updates about “checking in to a restaurant.” If Facebook didn’t impose its hierarchy on what you see, you might get all confused and upset! It’s important that things be hidden from you, so you can see what’s important.
But how can Facebook seriously claim that it “does a better job of showing people the stories they want to see” when there’s no point of comparison? You can’t evaluate whether people got to see “what they wanted to see” without knowing how much they would have wanted to see what’s been withheld. Facebook must just figure you can’t possibly want anything you haven’t seen yet.
Bernhard Warner, More Evidence Shows Teens Prefer Twitter, Reddit to Facebook
Pew and Piper Jaffray research form May show Facebook fatigue is growing for teenagers.
Charlie Warzel at Buzzfeed reported on a study from Stanford (Quantifying the Invisible Audience in Social Networks, Michael S. Bernstein, et al) that says that we all underestimate the size of our ‘audience’, by which the authors mean the number of followers that actually read what we post, and underestimate by a factor of four. Facebook News Feed manager Lars Backstrom responded, as discovered by Peter Kafka:
Peter Kafka, You Really Might Be Boring Your Facebook Friends
Here’s Facebook News Feed manager Lars Backstrom’s response to Warzel’s piece.* I approach Facebook PR very warily, but it’s entirely possible that Backstrom’s argument — if Facebook thought (normal) people wanted to see how many “views” they were racking up with their updates, Facebook would do it — is the truth, or something close to it.
But what Backstrom doesn’t do is respond to the much more interesting part of the BuzzFeed piece. That’s the part where Warzel reports on a Stanford research project that argues that most Facebook users consistently underestimate the size of the audience for their posts, by a factor of three or four.
One key theory proposed by the paper’s authors: Just because none of your pals are commenting on, liking or sharing something you wanted them to see doesn’t mean they didn’t see it. It’s entirely possible that they saw it, and didn’t care.
And it turns out that Backstrom didn’t respond to that part of Warzel’s post for a good reason. His company participated in the Stanford study — it provided Facebook log data for the research — and he’s generally okay with its results and conclusions.
“Most people are not doing a great job of estimating the size of their audience,” he says. “It’s fine that most people don’t have a sophisticated understanding of who’s seeing their posts.”
I contrast this lack of feedback from Facebook and others with the stream of feedback on Tumblr. But even on Tumblr — which presents users with a sampling of the gestures that other users leave behind — likes, reblogs, replies — there is no unequivocal answer to the basic question: how many people saw this post, this tweet, this photo, this check-in, this status update?
And it’s evident that they could provide this information. The could collate the clicks and user’s scrolling behavior, along with the things we already see, like retweets and reblogs. But why don’t they?
One argument is that it’s hard. Well, getting Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to scale was hard too, but they accomplished it.
Another more psychologically interesting argument — the one implicitly raised by Backstrom’s comments — is that people aren’t asking for it, because they don’t want to actually know.
Perhaps I should restate that. Offline, there is no way to know how much others care about what we say. With our close friends, we expect feedback: we mention something about our day at work to a friend at a bar, and he responds with his own tale of woe. But when we say something in a group of 10 — say in a business meeting — there is no norm that leads to us finding out if all the folks in the room are thinking through what we said, or paid attention to it at all. In real life we accept that social indeterminacy all the time.
So, maybe it comes as no surprise that people don’t expect to know how many actually read our tweets, while non-people like publishers, brands, and journalists would like to know. (Just kidding about the journalists being non-people. I think.)
Rupert Murdoch warning Facebook to watch its six. And, yes, he did buy “crappy MySpace” in July 2005 for $580M, and sold it for $20-30M in 2011. He paid a half a billion to learn that lesson. I wonder how much Facebook stock he has?
Marco Arment, Lockdown
Amanda Hess, Teenagers Hate Facebook, but They’re Not Logging Off
Hess cites new Pew Study, Teens, Social Media, and Privacy by Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, Maeve Duggan, Aaron Smith. Facebook has become a social obligation, and has been colonized by disapproving, ever vigilant adults.
Teen, on Facebook.
Wow, it’s even worse of an idea than I thought.
The HTC First, or “Facebook phone” as many prefer to call it, is officially a flop. It certainly wasn’t a good sign when AT&T dropped the price of HTC’s First to $0.99 just one month after its debut, and now BGR has confirmed that HTC and Facebook’s little experiment is nearing its end. BGR has learned from a trusted source that sales of the HTC First have been shockingly bad. So bad, in fact, that AT&T has already decided to discontinue the phone.
Our source at AT&T has confirmed that the HTC First, which is the first smartphone to ship with Facebook Home pre-installed, will soon be discontinued and unsold inventory will be returned to HTC. How much unsold inventory is there? We don’t have an exact figure, but things aren’t looking good. According to our source, AT&T sold fewer than 15,000 units nationwide through last week when the phone’s price was slashed to $0.99.
I wonder if that’s the end of Facebook Home, or just this variant?
How to Make Journalism Work on Facebook and Tumblr by Lydia DePillis (via thenewrepublic)
David Pogue, Facebook’s Grab for Your Phone. What Gives?
What happens when Facebook tries to hack the way the mobile Home screen works? It screws up the whole smartphone paradigm of apps first and foremost.
The real problem is that Facebook Home is trying to hack our brains: Fail.