Facebook Survey Fail: Are They Really Trying to Improve Things for the User?

Back in September I wrote about some changes that Facebook made to its algorithm. Changes to the algorithm included “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.

Which all sounds great in theory, but my gripe is with how these changes aren’t really about what we want to see. It’s all about what Facebook thinks we want to see.

Facebook is claiming it’s making these changes to their algorithm because they “don’t (want people to) miss the stories that are important to them.” But I’m not sure how these algorithm adjustments do that. Just because the profile of a page I’ve liked isn’t complete doesn’t mean their posts aren’t important to me; after all I’ve ‘liked’ the page – shouldn’t that be enough to tell Facebook I want to see what they post?

I recently noticed another feature that Facebook has added. You can now ‘Take a survey to improve News Feed’.

facebook survey

Sounded interesting so I decided to see what it’s all about…

The first question is this:

facebook survey question

It’s accompanied by a photo (from someone I don’t know) in which an acquaintance of mine was tagged. I’m not really sure what Facebook means by this question though…. Do they mean ‘do I want to see more posts about this acquaintance?’ Or ‘do I want to see more photos?’ If the latter; am I being asked about photos generally, or the specific content of the photo?

As I don’t know how to answer the question, I stayed neutral and selected ‘Neither agree nor disagree’.

The second question is the same, but the post I’m being asked about is by someone whose page I have liked, who has added 4 new photos to their album ‘Christmas 2013’. What am I being asked here? Do I want to see more posts by this person? More posts about people updating photo albums? Or more posts about Christmas?

‘Neither agree nor disagree’ again.

Lo and behold the next question is the same – as are all the questions in the survey; I’m just being asked about a different post each time. The things is, unless I’m missing something, the answers I give are of no use to Facebook unless I understand precisely what it is about each post that I may or may not want to see more of.

I get that Facebook’s trying to create an effective algorithm, and it’s great that you can now select ‘I don’t want to see this’ on any post that you don’t like (and that Facebook then asks you what you don’t like about that post – which to be fair is probably the key to improving the aforementioned survey).

This isn’t the first time that Facebook have got the survey thing wrong, and it’s not the first time they’ve used them in a manner that shows Facebook is probably more focused on looking like they care about user experience, than actually giving the user what they want. For a start; how many people even realise you can choose to hide posts or take surveys? The little arrow:

facebook arrow

Doesn’t appear until you hover over a post, and even then, it doesn’t really stand out.

And if Facebook really just wants to optimise the user experience as best as possible for each individual, why, if I select to sort posts by ‘Most Recent’ does it constantly change the setting back to ‘Top Stories’?

facebook top stories most recent

The reality is that what Facebook wants to optimise most is its revenue. Which is fine. But at the end of the day, without the user, Facebook has no revenue.

I can’t be the only one who just wants to view their Facebook news feed in the order the posts were made, or surely the option to do this wouldn’t exist. The problem (probably) is that an ordered timeline wouldn’t be so profitable to Facebook since it would give every company and their posts a fair chance of being seen.

Facebook needs an algorithm to allow them to mark posts that come from pages as inferior, hide these posts from the people that have liked that page, and then charge the page owner to get their posts seen.

But while Facebook might have search functions, it isn’t a search engine (or at least the news feed isn’t); so (as far as users are concerned) does it really need an algorithm?

What do you think? Do you like that Facebook decides for you what it thinks you want to see? Do you think Facebook’s surveys are useful or simply a way to make it look like they’re improving things for the user?

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