Wired writer Mat Honan got some attention this week after running an experiment on Facebook’s News Feed algorithm. In a nutshell, he liked every single thing he came across in his News Feed for two days straight, and concluded (unsurprisingly) that this made his personal Facebook experience awful. He also found, however, that it made his friends’ experience pretty bad too.
Are you content with the current state of the News Feed experience? What could Facebook do better? Should they change anything at all? Let us know in the comments.
To recap, Honan concluded, “While I expected that what I saw might change, what I never expected was the impact my behavior would have on my friends’ feeds. kept thinking Facebook would rate-limit me, but instead it grew increasingly ravenous. My feed become a cavalcade of brands and politics and as I interacted with them, Facebook dutifully reported this to all my friends and followers.”
“That first night, a small little circle with a dog’s head popped up in the corner of my phone,” he added. “A chat head, from Facebook’s Messenger software! The dog turned out to be my old WIRED editor, John Bradley. ‘Have you been hacked,’ he wanted to know. The next morning, my friend Helena sent me a message. ‘My fb feed is literally full of articles you like, it’s kind of funny,’ she says. ‘No friend stuff, just Honan likes.’ I replied with a thumbs up. This continued throughout the experiment. When I posted a status update to Facebook just saying ‘I like you,’ I heard from numerous people that my weirdo activity had been overrunning their feeds. ‘My newsfeed is 70 percent things Mat has liked,’ noted my pal Heather. Eventually, I would hear from someone who worked at Facebook, who had noticed my activity and wanted to connect me with the company’s PR department.”
We talked about the whole thing at length here, suggesting that one person’s ability to have this kind of effect on another’s News Feed is problematic. Facebook apparently doesn’t view it as much of a problem. Asked for comment, here’s the response we received via email fro m Facebook:
Your News Feed is made by you. If you like it, you will see more of it. When you become friends with someone new, or add a new Page, you will begin to see content from them immediately. In the example you reference, a person connected with over 1000 new pages in 48 hours, and his News Feed changed to show him mostly Page content, triggered by these new connections. If he had made 1000 new friends in 48 hours, his News Feed would be mostly new friend content.
What your friends see is determined by what you share with them, and whether or not they like it.
For example, if you typically post a new photo every day, and when your friends see that photo in your News Feed they like and comment on it, this tells News Feed those friends like seeing photos from you. If you suddenly starts posting 20 photos each day, News Feed will show your friends these photos. If your friends stop liking your photos, (or even better, hide them), News Feed will quickly learn that your friends prefer not to see these photos from you in future, or that they prefer to see fewer of them. In the example you reference above, the person’s friends had probably liked seeing articles and Pages he’d connected with in the past. However, when the volume increased dramatically, they saw too many of them. News Feed will learn over time not to show this kind of content to his friends.
To stop seeing updates from someone, you can unfollow them (info on how to do that is here). To see all the updates from a particular friend and receive a notification when they post, add them to your close friends list (info on how to do that is here).
In other words, if you don’t like what your’e seeing in your News Feed, that’s on you. Do something about it.
So yes, Honan’s friends could have just unfollowed him, though as he noted in his article, at least one person thought he had been hacked (which isn’t an uncommon occurrence). Facebook didn’t say anything about that in its emailed comments, though they had apparently read our previous article. They also didn’t address how The Atlantic’s Caleb Garling apparently able to game the News Feed as we also discussed in that other article.
There’s also the fact that a fair amount of the content we see in the News Feed is actually not directly set up by users. Sponsored posts are one obvious example, which is fine. They have to make money obviously. Earlier this year, Facebook also started including more content from Pages you haven’t even liked, just because you may like certain people or topics.
While you may have control over what you see to some extent, you certainly don’t have as much as you once did.
Do you agree with Facebook? If you don’t like your News Feed experience, is it your own fault? Tell us what you think.
Image via Facebook