Facebook recently announced an update to its algorithm. They want to make sure that “the best quality content is being produced, surfaced and shared.” Very noble. Some of it even sounds quite clever, for example; the algorithm will use “over a thousand different factors” including “how frequently content from a certain Page is reported as low quality (e.g. hiding a Page post), how complete the Page profile is, and whether the fan base for a particular Page overlaps with the fan base of other known high quality Pages.”

Yet if Facebook just wants to improve the user experience by only showing us the “best” content – why are they taking money from companies to showcase posts to thousands of people, regardless (more or less) of the content of that post?

I keep seeing posts like this pop up in my news feed:

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This really isn’t relevant to me, and I don’t actually believe that Dawn French is going around telling people to use diet pills. This is pure spam. So much for ensuring users’ news-feeds are filled with nothing but quality, relevant content.

I’m not going to argue that Facebook are trying to force businesses to spend money with them. The secret’s out; Facebook went public. Three months in and the value of their stocks had dropped by 50%. They had to do something. And that something’s worked.

My concern isn’t with Facebook forcing businesses to spend money. It’s with how Facebook is taking control of what its users see. In most cases, when a user likes a brand, or becomes friends with someone, they want to see what that brand or friend posts. In turning Facebook into (essentially) a paid service for businesses, they are hurting the user experience, and moving further away from what Facebook was actually supposed to be about; social.

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Paid advertising, search engines; what happened to the social network?

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Once upon a time our Facebook feeds were filled with stories about our friends. Today, our friends have to compete with paying customers for our attention.

So Why Does Facebook Get To Control What We See? Money?

Fair enough – Facebook’s not a charity. But it’s on shaky ground. Users were drawn to Facebook because it was a brilliant platform for keeping in touch with friends and family. If Facebook feeds become nothing but advertising streams, its users may well find a new social network to play with.

Or Is It User Experience?

Facebook claims to know what we want to see. It says it wants to ensure its users “don’t miss the stories that are important to them.” But how much can an algorithm really know about what we want to see? It can’t actually view each post and judge whether or not we would be interested in it. Why not focus on giving more power to the user to decide what they do or do not want to see?

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What do you think about the latest Facebook update? Is your news feed being filled with irrelevant posts, or are you finding that you are genuinely being exposed to content that interests you?