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Four-Armed Martians and the Horror of Facebook EdgeRank

(Note: This is the fourth in a series of Blogmaster 2000 posts about  four-armed Martians in which I don’t actually discuss anything that is truly useful with regard to Martians, or even mention them at all.)

Have you noticed on Facebook that not everyone or every page that you are following shows up in your newsfeed? This has become much more pronounced over the last couple of months as FB has pushed through several relatively big platform updates. It becomes especially noticeable if you simultaneously browse your newsfeed on the website and on an aggregator app like Seesmic, or on a mobile app like SocialScope for Blackberry.

None of the multiple methods will deliver the full perfect newsfeed, but the actual website is by far the worst in filtering out stories from the Facebook newsfeeds.

When it first started getting easily noticeable over the summer, I thought it was simply because of how the updates were being posted – I initially suspected that it was based on the updates connection to apps that had been hidden from the newsfeed. I either block or hide every game app that shows up in my feed or requests info from me – it is like second nature now, so it wouldn’t be surprising if I had accidentally blocked status updates delivered by Hootsuite or Twitter.

I pulled up my blocked and hidden apps lists and quickly confirmed that that wasn’t the reason.

I then suspected that it was Facebook itself hiding updates from third party apps, but determined that if that was indeed the case then it was inconsistent at doing this and therefore couldn’t be altogether purposeful.

This was all during the summer, and then the first big platform change hit with the addition of the news ticker and greater renewed emphasis on Top/Highlighted Stories. When this happened, the discrepancies between the newsfeeds in the social apps and the native website became much more pronounced. And I noticed this most specifically with Fan Pages. I posted on the help forums asking for directions on how to ensure that these pages would show up in my feed, and FB true to form did not bother to respond.

I then did web searches trying to determine why fan pages didn’t show up in news feeds with little success.

Finally, I took a different tact and started researching how to get a fan page update to appear as a highlighted story, since Facebook itself was pushing very hard to make highlighted stories a priority. And this is where I hit the mother lode.

Apparently, (and I say this dumbfoundedly because I actually knew this before but my brain, for whatever reason, saw it best not to make this connection earlier), Facebook has a homegrown algorithm called EdgeRank, of all things, that determines based on a series of criteria what it thinks will be important to you. These criteria are comprised mostly of whether or not you clicked on a particular status update or clicked through to an attached or associated link or story.

These different criteria all have different weights of importance in the social graph, for instance “Likes” and “Comments” have more relative importance if they are associated with a status update that contains either a link or embedded content. This is all tracked and scored.

Then all of that personal data is combined with the same data from the friends that you interact with the most. At this point it then decides what will be the most important story to you. And then it decides what will be of normal interest to you. And finally it determines which updates it expects you not to miss.

At this point it sorts your entire newsfeed accordingly.

This process is also applied to Fan Pages, but apparently with a small twist. It seems, based on what I have been able to learn, that an additional weighted data point in this determination of what will or will not be important to you, is how popular the Fan Page is – or rather, how many Fans/Likes it has.

So, let’s put aside for a moment the fact that Facebook blindly ignores the importance of letting us control what appears in our own newsfeeds ourselves, however, the hubris of determining what is important to us based on what we click on when the majority of updates are text only requiring no click through is mind numbing.

I have been a reticent champion of Facebook in the past, especially during the first Google Buzz push and then the G+ push, because the FB lead in the market is much too big for what amounts to a challenge from a competitor that is only fielding an iterative combatant. And with the new Timeline profile pages Facebook will solidify a bit more its hold on its audience with what is almost (but not quite) a next gen roll out of functionality. But having said all of that, I really, really resent their dogged dependence and faith in this lame algorithm and their continued need to herd us as users to the experience that delivers for them the best chance to monetize our interactions.

Seriously, Facebook, let us determine how we want to interact and let us determine who to remove or hide from our newsfeeds. And then build a predictive algorithm based on our organic engagement and put some work into figuring out how to build a business model from there. Herding us is just going to drive us away. And we won’t be going to Google, or Twitter, or Tumblr.

We make a big deal as industry professionals and social cognoscenti about how FB and Google and Apple and MS all have our personal data and will sell it to any and all bidders and in the process paint big wet hard to miss targets on our foreheads and by extension have a claim on our souls. But the truth is, only current data is of any real value to these companies – they will be able to get a certain amount of leverage out of our historical data, but it is our immediate interactions that are the most valuable.

They are all, after everything is said and done, just websites and services, and once we move on – their ability to maintain their hold on us dries up very quickly. A social behemoth like Facebook can lose all of its relevance in the market without an exerted effort in less than 3 years – the average amount of time it would take a modern teenager to go through High School and decide they don’t want to be on the same social platform as their parents.

The average lifespan of smart devices (mobile phones, Tablets, PCs, etc – including iPhones and iPads) is probably a year – so most any communication platform is less than two years away from obsolescence. Especially once it is realized that the vast majority of new adopters (our teenage population) is terrifically fickle and ready to bolt the moment they feel like they are being lectured or herded in any way.

And the rest of us? Well, we will follow our kids to whatever option it is that pops up that lets them engage the way they want to and not the way you want them to.

Just like we did when we followed them to Facebook and left MySpace a ghost town without nary a glance back.

(For more info on Edgerank and how it works a good starting place, as with all things FB related, is All Facebook and from there you can spread out pretty easily.)

One Trackback

  1. […] Powers That Be have slowly slipped away from that very hard and fast rule. Now with the addition of EdgeRank and the perceived need to target ads better and deliver more relevant content, the ability to see […]

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