October 23rd, 2010
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?
[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? [...]
I don't use Facebook1 but I'd always assumed that the whole point of a personal news feed was that it'd keep you abreast of what your friends are doing, not just whatever subset of their activities Facebook decides to show you.
I can see the argument that if the news feed was just a river of news showing every type of update all your friends shared with their friends – or whichever subset of their friends you fell into – then you could easily be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages, but doesn't that just suggest that Facebook needs to make it possible for you to sort or group the content of your news feed in some user-defined way, or to have the News Feed flag certain types of update? Or is this like Facebook's privacy settings: something it is possible to customise to some degree, but which most users will leave at the default settings because it's too complicated/inflexible to be worth the hassle?
- I don't mean that as snobbery, some modern-day equivalent of "I don't watch TV", honest! I do have a Facebook account, but I've never thought it worth spending time on. I get that for a lot of people Facebook provides an easy way to keep tabs on the lives of friends who wouldn't dream of setting up a weblog or online journal, and that's just fine if that's what you want. ↩