OK, I'm finally posting my first rant. And hopefully my last!
I have seen something I find VERY upsetting on Facebook in the past few weeks: People asking each other to "stay in their feed" by commenting on their status. It seems pretty obvious that Facebook really did push a new algorithm in the past week or so (usually it's really hard to tell over a short period how the logic of what you see and don't see is changing). I am especially upset because the people I see sharing it are people whom I love very much and want to stay in touch with.
I have some numbers on this recent change for those who are feeling out of control over who they're in contact with now.
I have been using my page here to conduct an informal study of how many of my friends see my statuses (Pages get reports of how many people are 'reached' by your post). This page only has 160 followers, and when I share a picture to the page, about 50, or 1/3, of the page's followers are 'reached.' This is in comparison to MORE THAN 2/3 of Facebook's monthly users (more than 2 BILLION people) logging in every single day. The rough numbers I've tracked:
- When I share the same picture to my personal account, where I have 2,200 friends, that 'reach' number goes up to about 500, or 25% of my friends.
- If someone I know 'Shares' that picture, the 'reach' goes up to about 900.
- If two people 'Share' the picture, the 'reach' goes up to about 2,000 (even if they're people with some overlap in their friend lists).
The upshot? Many of us log into Facebook EVERY DAY, *trying* to show up for each other, help each other, be amused by each other, LEARN from each other-- and we aren't getting what we're coming here for. At all.
OK, moving on to address the "Beat the algorithm-- stay in my feed!" posts:
Let's be very clear: Asking for friends to opt-in to your newsfeed by posting a *status update* about it *won't work.* The post simply won't reach the people you wish to reach. It is already too late for this. Asking for Facebook to allow you a temporary reprieve from their newsfeed algorithm is a little bit like *asking a bear not to eat you.* You can do it, but it will not work. And like a bear, this should SCARE YOU. Sorry for all caps. They are scary. I don't like them.
But this stuff is scary. It is scary because your friends' lives are real. They really get married, and really have babies, and really graduate from college-- and Facebook is decent about showing you those events. But they also really sometimes need help, really sometimes get sick, and they really, also, die. Facebook does NOT do a good job with these use cases. If you have ever experienced the heartbreak of realizing someone you LOVE has DIED and you missed the news on Facebook, you know how scary that kind of power is. If you've ever given too much power to Facebook, and then seen Facebook abuse it, you know how much it hurts. You could've given that friend an extra $20. They could've known someone out there was thinking about them. You might've known someone you love was starting to fall for the dreaded Fake News, and been able to help them before they disappeared down your newsfeed's drain into what might as well be a different universe, according to Facebook.
What I want to say about this, as someone with 10 years of media & entertainment research & measurement experience:
The only thing that made the advertising-based "Attention Economy" work, in the sense that it didn't drive everyone absolutely insane, was that there wasn't ever a way before Facebook to pay for one thing you liked, entertainmentwise, without paying for something you didn't really like.
Let me explain what I mean. One concept that most people are really familiar with about the entertainment industry is the idea that Diversification of risk is the safest way to grow-- as a movie studio, as a TV network, as a radio program. You can grow your reach and your profits by appealing to more people, and you do that by varying the types of programming you invest in a bit. The opposite of diversification (and discovery) is Synthesis-- using past data to create future content. Prequels, Sequels, Reality Show spinoffs, "franchises"-- those are created via synthesis. That can be done by an analyst, and it does not require any creative spark. To me, Diversification and Synthesis are both fine, as long as they live in balance.
We're mostly old enough here to remember paying for Cable TV (a lot of us still pay for it), and the concept applies there too-- You can pay for different *tiers* of programming, but you can't purchase access to only specific networks without getting sister networks or similar networks. As a consumer, your subscription dollars pay for some stuff you do like, and some stuff you don't care about as much. You have the freedom, as part of that deal, to browse networks you didn't really want to pay for when you signed up for cable. But maybe a year, two years down the road, you browse a network you disliked, and now find something you do like. And you watch it. And the ratings go up. And the show gets a better time slot. And it becomes The Office (not popular here until it hit Season 4!). This is how the Attention Economy can invest in the production of creative and culturally significant content.
Facebook doesn't have any of this at the heart of what decides what content it shows you and what it suppresses. If it thinks you're not going to engage in a post about your friend's political views, it just won't show it to you. You don't get to decide. You can't even find that post unless you think to search for your friend and see what their thoughts are. And why would you, when as Matilda's dad would say, "You got the TV sittin' there right in front of ya?" Facebook is so good at showing you what they think you'll engage in, that you might not even be able to remember the names of your 50 closest friends offhand. You can customize whose posts you see first SLIGHTLY, but not nearly easily enough or well enough to fix this problem.
I don't have a solution for this for Facebook-- Facebook connects almost everyone on earth who owns a computer or a phone, and who's ever going to have the scale to counter that? I would relish the opportunity to help Facebook work on this problem.
But I can say this:
If you want to stay in touch with your friends, Do It Outside of Facebook. Here are some great tools you can invite your friends to to stay in touch:
- Start a group on WhatsApp, GroupMe (yes it isn't the hottes thing anymore, but it is still great and I still use it daily Jared Hecht)
- Join an interest-based forum, like Reddit (GAH!) or even Kialo, which allows debates over issues in a much more structured forum that Facebook wants to build
- Make a list of people you'd be devastated to hear bad news about, and send them each a quick note. Do it once a month.
OK. And finally,
If you thought this was valuable, PLEASE SHARE IT. I'm keeping an eye on the reach numbers. Please love your friends and live your lives and don't let Facebook get in the way of those things.