How to Train Your Facebook Dragon?

How to Train Your Facebook Dragon?

Shane BarnhillSaturday,2 August 2014

The Snap:

I love signing into Facebook to see pictures of my friends’ vacations, watch their kids grow, see their lives evolve, and read about life events that help me to stay connected with them. However, that’s rarely what I see anymore when I check Facebook. Sure, those items are still there, but they’re increasingly rare and difficult to spot between all the articles that friends have shared, the sponsored posts that brands have bought, app install advertisements, and news from blogs and other organizations that I’ve liked over the years.

The Download:

Of course, what I want to see and what Facebook wants me to see are two entirely different things. Facebook wants me to see not only items that it can monetize, but also links that its algorithm thinks will interest me, based on my past behavior (“Go ahead! Click them! We’ll have more data about you to feed into the algorithm and sell to advertisers! Mwhaa ha ha ha!”). If I glance at a few status updates from friends in between, that’s fine too, but they’re by no means a priority from Facebook’s perspective.

And you know what? Facebook’s priorities are winning out over my own. Facebook crushed analysts’ estimates with strong second quarter results this year, as “Facebook’s earnings beat projections for the 8th quarter straight with $2.91B in revenue and $0.42EPS in Q2 2014,” according to TechCrunch. Furthermore, The Social Network now has over 1.32 billion monthly users, which, to put in perspective, is just shy of one-fifth of the world’s population. So clearly, Facebook knows what it’s doing, and ya’ll love what it’s serving up.

But I don’t anymore. (This, by the way, is the part of this post where you mock me with screams of “Get off my lawn!” Go ahead. Get it out. I can take it.).

Perhaps it’s because I’m more of a Twitter person than a Facebook person. To me, Twitter — not Facebook — is the best place to find interesting articles and breaking news. Twitter has been, almost since its inception, more of a information network than a social network. It’s the place where news breaks — so fast, in fact, that tweets have been proven to travel faster than earthquakes, thereby warning people that seismic tremors were on the way. Links to newsworthy blog posts, articles and longer form think pieces are a natural part of the Twitter experience; on Facebook, they don’t feel as relevant and in-the-moment (Facebook, of course, would like to usurp Twitter’s dominance of breaking news, as evidenced by the company’s release of Trending Topics earlier this year).

But increasingly, links to news, editorials and other articles from a handful of oversharing friends are dominating my News Feed on Facebook, and my experience there is worse because of them (For the record, I don’t actually mind all the advertisements, at least on mobile; in fact, I have discovered some interesting apps and useful products because of Facebook’s mobile ads). And so, it’s time for some spring cleaning.

To quote Selena Larson, who experimented with quitting Facebook altogether for a time, “It’s time to clean up Facebook… I’m not getting pertinent news and information from the social network. By eliminating the noise and deleting some personal information, such as Likes and my location, I can go back to using Facebook for what it began as—a place for friends”.

A place for friends. I like the sound of that, and I want to find that place again.

Thus, I’ll be conducting an experiment over the month of August, during which I will attempt to “train” Facebook to show more of what I’m interested in, and less of what I don’t care about (mainly articles from friends that I’d rather find via Twitter, or not at all). This experiment is going to be a lot of work, of course, and Facebook won’t be much fun for a while, as I diligently mark each unwanted post accordingly (see image below). I also plan to repeatedly accept Facebook’s offers to take surveys to make my News Feed better. I’m even prepared to take the drastic (and unwanted) step of unfollowing some friends in the short run, just to make sure Facebook’s algorithm really gets the point, if marking individual posts from some over-sharers doesn’t suffice.

Facebook in Training

I don’t know whether this experiment will pay off or end up being a giant waste of my time. Facebook’s News Feed algorithm may just push articles from different friends, as part of some pre-determined optimal mix of content. Or I might find myself feeling less connected to many valued friends, as Facebook misreads my signals and assumes that our relationships have deteriorated. But I have to try to make Facebook “a place for friends” once again.

Stay tuned for the results, which I will share here at the conclusion of my experiment.

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Hat Tips:

TechCrunch, Wikipedia, Hollywood Reporter, ReadWrite, Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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