Late last week, Backchannel put out a very interesting report on Facebook using a group of human testers to help them figure out the type of content to show in the News Feed. Sometimes algorithms just aren’t enough.
If your’e interested in how Facebook determines what to show you, you should give it a read. Within it, Facebook execs made some interesting comments about the difficulty of getting a feel for what people actually want to see in their News Feeds. Here’s an excerpt:
“It comes from the intuition that you can only get so far by looking at online behaviors,” says Cox. “It’s expensive, and it takes time. But what you really want is to sit down with 1.2 billion people, every single one, and ask them to go through and point at ‘I really loved that one.” Why did you really love that one? ‘Well I really liked that one because it’s from a person I went to high school with and I use Facebook to stay in touch with people from high school.’ Why did you hate this one? ‘I really hated this one because I really hate memes.'”
“If you just watch people eat doughnuts, you’re like, ‘People love doughnuts, let’s bring them more doughnuts,” says Greg Marra, a News Feed product manager. “But if you talk to people they’re like, ‘No actually what I want is to eat fewer doughnuts and maybe eat a kale smoothie….’ Then we can give them some kale smoothies, too.”
That level of interrogation won’t work for a billion people. But it could certainly be done with 30 people, who would become a pilot project for a broader interlocutory examination of the Facebook population.
First off, in case you didn’t read the original article, doughnuts refer to content with little value (cute cats, listicles, memes, etc.), and kale smoothies refer to really good content with legitimate value.
With regard to the difficulty of attaining “that level of interrogation” for a billion people, wouldn’t a dislike button go pretty far? If a person dislikes meme after meme, and never likes one, isn’t that a good indicator that they hate memes?
It’s one of the most highly requested Facebook features if not THE most highly requested one by users. People have been wanting such a thing for years, but Facebook has said time and time again that it won’t add one.
The last thing we’ve heard on the subject from the company was when Mark Zuckerberg talked about it in a December Q&A. Here’s what he said (via TechCrunch):
You know we’re thinking about it, on the Dislike button. It’s an interesting question, right, because there are two things that it can mean. And we’re considering and talking about doing one and not the other. So the one that we don’t want to do: The Like button is really valuable because it’s a way for you to very quickly express a positive emotion or sentiment when someone puts themselves out there and shares something. And, you know, some people have asked for a Dislike button because they want to be able to say ‘That thing isn’t good’. And that’s not something that we think is good for the world. So we’re not going to build that. I don’t think there needs to be a voting mechanism about whether posts are good or bad. I don’t think that’s socially very valuable or good for the community to help people share the important moments in their lives.
But the thing that I think is very valuable is there are more sentiments that people want to express than positivity or that they Like something. You know a lot of times people share things on Facebook that are sad moments in their lives, or are tough cultural or social things and often people tell us that they don’t feel comfortable press Like because Like isn’t the appropriate sentiment when someone lost a loved one or is talking about a very difficult issue.
So one of the things that we’ve had some dialogue about internally and that we’ve thought about for quite a while is what’s the right way to make it so people can easily express a broader range of emotions to empathize or to express surprise or laughter or any of these things. And you know you can always just comment, right, so it’s not like there isn’t a way to do that today, and a lot of people are commenting on posts all the time. But there’s something that’s just so simple about the Like button. You know if you’re commenting, a lot of the time you feel like you have to have something witty to say or add to the conversation.
But everyone feels like they can just press the Like button and that’s an important way to sympathize or empathize with someone in an important moment that put themselves out there to share. And giving people the power to do that in more ways with more emotions would be powerful, but we need to figure out the right way to do it so it ends up being a force for good, not a force for bad and demeaning the posts that people are putting out there. So that’s an important thing. We don’t have anything that’s coming out soon but it’s an important area of discussion.
Facebook users got their first taste of the “dislike” in the form of a sticker, which you can use in post comments or in private messages, but that doesn’t cater to counting dislikes like a true dislike button would.
Image via zeevveez, Flickr Creative Commons