Facebook Feed Changes and You

Confused about the difference between news feed and live feed on Facebook? Me too. The whole new, new Facebook annoyed and confused me until I finally Googled it to see wtf was going on. Once I did, it was worse than I thought

The biggest change on Facebook are the Live and News Feeds. Everyone figured out how to drag the status feed to the top of the links menu on the left. That was supposed to restore the old Facebook, but it didn’t because the feeds are now split into the various status, links, pages, etc., plus the new Live and News Feeds. Confusing?!

So, here’s the difference between all the multitudinous feeds, which is obvious if you think about it:

Live Feed: A feed of everything in Facebook. In addition to status updates, this includes friends’ quiz results, Mob Wars and Farmville announcements, page announcements, Every. Little. Thing.  Live Feed is Twitterish. Unfortunately, the live part of the Live Feed work poorly. It’s slow and it doesn’t always refresh, so no one noticed for a while.

News Feed: This is a feed of supposedly interesting stuff. It weeds out the stupid things like Mob Wars and Farmville. It also weeds out everything else. News Feed is a merge with the Highlights section that was placed on the right-hand column in the last change. Apparently users asked for this to happen. You can, however, hide the irritating Farmville announcements with the hide button.

One problem: News Feed uses a super sekret algorithm known only to Facebook to determine what goes into the feed based on what they (meaning Facebook) think is most relevant to you.  The popularity filters look for “interactivity,” or your comments, likes, shares, basic “user activity stories” (i.e., friend acceptance, event RSVPs, fanning), who you interact with, who they interact with, what you post on, how other people you interact with comment, like, or share, and etc. (*pause* *breathe* *continue*) Basically it’s a memealicious feedback loop. Facebook’s algorithm determines what you will “enjoy” (their phrase) and then feeds it to you. Since you are limited to posts on that feed, that’s what you spread around. Your News Feed changes minute by minute due to this algorithm which is why it’s not chronological (and therefore even more confusing). It’s a Wall Street ticker tape stock exchange of your social media life.

Another problem: The new design limits your feed to 250 posts and it limits your friend tracking to 250 friends. Not a problem if you don’t t have that many friends. People who do, however, need to edit their Facebook settings to see all their friends’ feeds.

They blame us for the change: Facebook claims that these changes were prompted by user feedback, and the goal is to reduce information overload. For instance, after the last change, everyone griped about losing birthdays, and so this information is now returned to prominence “above the fold.”

The upshot: Live Feed is cluttered with everything, and News Feed is streamlined to the point of annoyance.

The money-making truth:

1. More personalization for more profit: Not only are birthdays back, but so are ads. All this customization serves users up on a platter to advertisers looking for target markets.

2. Annoying harassment: To promote “user engagement,” Facebook nags you through a “suggestions box” to nudge your friends into increased activity. Thus you get spam in the upper right hand corner telling you to “reconnect” with friends, “poke” them, help them fill out their incomplete info, suggest friends (that was there before; it’s just more prominent now). Yes, this increases the network, which is why we’re there, but Facebook’s motive is to grow the consumer population.

3. Fanning: Facebook told “brands” that advertising (aka “fanning”) increases “organically” in the News Feed. Fanning is now viral advertising, or geurilla advertising. Sort of the way music videos are just advertisements for music. And soap operas are advertisements for Proctor and Gamble.

4. Bizarrely predictable/predictably bizarre: A whole industry has sprouted up around tracking Facebook algorithms, user activity, designs, applications, and their implications for advertising.

See, for instance, the site AppData: Independent, Accurate Facebook Application Metrics and Trends from Inside Facebook. Seriously. People make a living trying to figure out how to use Facebook to sell crap to users. They study the “Facebook ecosystem” and its metrics to ferret out how to get the most bang for their advertising buck. Facebook plays a shell game with the advertisers. The sole purpose of most apps is to spam users with advertising. AppData’s sole purpose is to track Facebook app users.

Facebook plays a give and take game with app designers regarding how app stories appear on your page. On the one hand, “one user’s single fan-join can translate into hundreds of brand exposures.” App developers want to get you coming to their product and app pages. The new News Feed is considered a “continuous viral driver” for sending people to advertisers’ pages. On the other, Facebook keeps the algorithm top secret, like Coke’s secret syrup formula. Consequently, as those Facebook tracker wonks put it (with greedy eloquence):

The power and direction of the currents that carry information through Facebook’s oceanic social graph are shifting. This has major implications for every participant in the Facebook ecosystem. Why? Because as Facebook adjusts the dynamics of its viral communication channels, it also intrinsically shifts the incentives and opportunities for all actors in the ecosystem. Every application developer, page manager, and advertiser should be studying the decisions that Facebook is making in order to understand how Facebook’s shifting product plans will affect their business.

5. Twitterishness: Yes, Facebook is getting more and more Twitterish even though they deny it. The whole Live Feed is Tweety (though they claim they had it first with status updates). They even stole the whole Twitter-style @tags (one cool improvement).

Both Facebook and Twitter are in “data deals” with both Bing and Google. Updates will be crawled and indexed by these search engines, which means more data trawling for advertisers. Don’t panic. This is only for public status posts. Still, it’s a huge mass of data for marketing experts to play with.

So, to summarize the reason for all these changes made under the alibi of reducing information overload (stolen from ReadWriteWeb):

1. Get more people sharing information.

2. Figure out how to create a personalized, high-value view of all that information by surfacing the most important updates for each user.

3. Profit.

In the end, and ironically, what’s most irksome is how Facebook made these changes without informing users how to navigate them. I’m troubled, though, that Facebook violates transparency, which is supposedly a cultural more for web 2.0. These changes are not genuinely about making it easy for users, but for making it easy to serve users up as data. Our passive-aggressive reaction to them simply proves Sherry Turkles notion that we now take things at “interface value” instead of trying to understand what’s beneath the surface.

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  3 comments for “Facebook Feed Changes and You

  1. Gary Seminoff
    November 13, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    HA! I have to laugh at the statement, “They blame us for the change: Facebook claims that these changes were prompted by user feedback and the point is to reduce information overload.” What has happened is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE! Now we have TOO MUCH INFORMATION and most of it is the kind that most users DON’T WANT TO SEE and that is “Friend added friend” and “friend plays game and how many things he has” is the most USELESS things to see on FB now! If they (Facebook) did this to REDUCE information overlaod, THEY BLEW BIG TIME AND 99% of users I have talked too HATE IT HUST AS MUCH. See the Facebook group “Change Facebook Back To Normal!!” It has over 1.76 MILLION on there AND NOT ONE OF THEM LIKE THE NEW SYSTEM WHATSOEVER. Also digging a bit deeper and reading Facebooks own Privacy Policy we can see that Facebook is COMPLETELY VIOLATING it’s own privacy policy, Where
    in your privacy settings does it say every single friend will be
    notified on what friends you added in their news feed? It doesn’t! In
    fact, the added friend setting (in privacy settings) says it applies to
    YOUR wall as Recent Activity. This Facebook change violated their
    privacy setting/rule. Not nice Facebook!

    • ~LS~
      November 13, 2009 at 6:50 pm

      Yep!

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