Mr. Zuckerberg… Tear Down That Algorithm

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Every time that Facebook changes their news feed (and the algorithm that feeds it), Facebook changes.

Some of those changes are for the good. Some of them make Facebook (somewhat) unusable for many users. Their most recent shift in the news feed was a big one. In what seems like the right play for the online social network, they wanted to throttle back on content from publishers and brands in the organic feed and amp up content from friends and family. With that, they also want to amplify the content from friends and family that is experiencing the most social interaction (the clarity of what this means is not finite. It could be likes and share, it could be comments and interactions between connections). We don’t know the exact secret sauce here, and by the sounds of things, it’s unclear what, exactly, Facebook means by these definitions as well. That’s not be cynical of the social media platform, that is based on how Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of News Feed, describes the past, current and possible future state of the news feed at the Code Media event that is currently underway.

This is an important watch: Facebook’s head of news partnerships & head of News Feed live from Code Media.

What does Facebook really want? Does it want advertising dollars? Does it want our personal data and interactions? Does it want to connect the world because of altruistic beliefs? Let’s cut through the parlance and PR spin: Facebook is a business. Facebook provides its services for free to consumers. The consumer’s data is the product (or, you are the product). The advertising (and enterprise solutions) is how Facebook makes it money. There’s nothing wrong with this business model, so long as everyone engaged in it is clear in what the intentions are and that consent is given.

It is the consent that makes things difficult.

Sure, everything is laid out in the terms of service on Facebook. Sure, nobody should engage in Facebook without reading and understanding the terms of service. Sure, Facebook should not be held accountable if people don’t read (or understand) their terms of service. Still, it’s also easy to argue the other side of this: Consumers are not that media and technology literate. Consumers are very unclear what kind of data is being stored, used and sold to the highest bidder. Consumers are not great with the “fine print.” And, ultimately, it’s a free service… so whatevs, right?

What do you really think of the new news feed. Is it good from a user perspective? Is it good from a brand perspective?

Personally, I am spending more time than ever on Facebook. If we’re connected, you might think the opposite. The bulk of my time on Facebook is currently being spent in private groups. This is not me thumbing my nose to public posts. This is not me trying to sound self-important. I have been fortunate to find several tribes that speak directly to my area of interest (from professional speaking and non-fiction writing to podcasting, marketing agency leadership and middle-aged people discussing eighties rock). I’ve never derived as much value from Facebook as I have in the past five years. With that, the current changes to the news feed have choked it down into a place where it feels like I am only seeing a handful of posts from a handful of people, and the content tends to not refresh but repeat itself through the week. In short, the new algorithm has made Facebook’s news feed very bland and boring. 

How can Facebook find the right balance?

I would pay for a better Facebook. Would you? Chris Brogan posted this on Facebook (oh, the irony) just the other day: “I would pay Facebook $5/month to ALWAYS have ‘most recent’ and ALWAYS have ‘turn off notifications’.” Chris is not alone. I’m sure that there are, literally, millions of people who would pay for the same services. I’ve written and spoken about this new business model opportunity for a long time. In fact, I would push Chris’ sentiment much further with this statement…

Mr. Zuckerberg… tear down that algorithm! 

Personally, I would pay Netflix-like monthly fees (let’s call it $10 – $20 per month) to have a pure and untouched access to my news feed (and, take it easy on the infomercial-like advertising, while I’m paying for it). This means that whoever (friend, family, brand) that I have “liked” or “followed” should be shown to me in the order that it has been posted… no matter what they post. Open up the entire feed, kill the algorithm and let it flow, baby! 

Why pay for the firehose?

Whether it’s an issue of fake news or throttling content in attempts to create a better user experience, Facebook is working under the supposition that we – the consumers – have no idea what’s good for us. While that may be true for a segment of the population, there probably is another (larger) segment that understands the implications of “like”-ing and following a person or a brand. Give the user the power to mute, unfriend, unfollow or delete the content that they’re no longer interested in. What makes this most interesting, is that none of this requires any kind of algorithm. It probably requires them to simply remove the algorithm.

Instead of trying to make the algorithm smarter, why not just empower your users to be smarter?