If you’re anything like me you’ve questioned how Facebook decides what to put in your News Feed. Traditionally, there has been a lot of secrecy surrounding this topic from Facebook’s point of view. Thankfully, we have people like Thomas Weber who are willing to take a methodical researchers approach to trying to figure out just how Facebook selects what is important for you to know via your News Feed. Check out Weber’s article on The Daily Beast:
How does the social media giant decide who and what to put in your feed? Tom Weber conducts a one-month experiment to break the algorithm, discovering 10 of Facebook’s biggest secrets.
The more digital our daily lives become, the more perplexing the questions seem. Will the growth of social media destroy our notions of privacy? Is democracy helped or harmed by the cacophony of opinions online? And perhaps most confounding: Why does that guy I barely know from the 10th grade keep showing up in my Facebook feed?
If you’ve ever spent time on Facebook, you’ve probably pondered that last one. The social-networking giant promises to keep us connected with our friends in exchange for pumping a steady diet of advertising at us—but the algorithms Facebook uses to decide what news to pass along can seem capricious or altogether impenetrable.
Facebook, much like Google with its search algorithms, consistently refuses to go into details about how it picks and pans content (save a few glancing details this year about the enigmatic engine that powers it, EdgeRank). So, with the mystery of that 10th-grade friend in mind, The Daily Beast set out to crack the code of Facebook’s personalized news feed. Why do some friends seem to pop up constantly, while others are seldom seen? How much do the clicks of other friends in your network affect what you’re shown? Does Facebook reward some activities with undue exposure? And can you “stalk” your way into a friend’s news feed by obsessively viewing their page and photos?
To get the answers, we devised an experiment, creating our own virtual test lab within the confines of Facebook and tracking thousands of news-feed items over a period of several weeks. The focal point of our experiment: Phil Simonetti, a 60-year-old Facebook newcomer who allowed us to dictate and monitor his every move.
Like a half-billion people before him, Simonetti joined Facebook and began typing in his status updates. But in this case, Simonetti’s only friends were a hand-picked roster of more than two dozen volunteers who agreed to sift through their news feeds for the duration of our experiment, dutifully recording any Phil sightings.
As our volunteers checked in with their reports, some remarkable findings began to emerge:
1. Facebook’s Bias Against Newcomers. If there’s one thing our experiment made all too clear, it’s that following 500 million people into a party means that a lot of the beer and pretzels are already long gone. Poor Phil spent his first week shouting his updates, posted several times a day, yet most of his ready-made “friends” never noticed a peep on their news feeds. His invisibility was especially acute among those with lengthy, well-established lists of friends. Phil’s perpetual conversation with the ether only stopped when we instructed our volunteers to interact with him. A dynamic which leads to…
2. Facebook’s Catch-22: To get exposure on Facebook, you need friends to interact with your updates in certain ways (more on that below). But you aren’t likely to have friends interacting with your updates if you don’t have exposure in the first place. (Memo to Facebook newcomers: Try to get a few friends to click like crazy on your items.)
3. The Velvet Rope: “Top News”: The real fun began when we eventually instructed different subgroups of our volunteer-friend force to interact with Phil in a controlled manner.
Suddenly, Phil began popping up on feeds. But which ones? The current newsfeed system offers users two options: “Top News,” a highly selective feed of updates from friends, and “Most Recent,” a “fire hose” that shows updates in reverse chronological order.
A bunch of interactions, however, still do not guarantee that you’ll get on anyone’s Top News, which is how a vast majority of Facebook users get their information. Some of our volunteers reported frequent sightings of Phil’s updates in their Top News feeds, while others saw him rarely—and in some cases, never. Top News will show you hours-old updates from some friends while ignoring newer postings from others.
Facebook has a reason to do this: If users saw all of the posts for all of their friends, they might be overwhelmed (or bored) and tune out—a disaster for Facebook, which needs eyeballs to earn revenue. But in doing so, Facebook’s ranking system makes judgments about items it thinks you’ll be interested in.
What became clear after two weeks was that it’s not the amount of activity you have, but the type (more on that below). READ MORE