[Editor's Note: Today's post is by guest author R. Michelle Green, the Principal for her company, Client Solutions. She is a combination geek girl, personal organizer, and career coach. She has studied what makes some individuals embrace or avoid information technology. (She’s definitely one of the former.) Michelle helps others improve their use of technology in their personal or professional life. Here's her take on Facebook's formula for displaying your status messages.]
What if I told you there’s no guarantee that anyone sees what you post?
The hell you say?? Oh yeah -- the Top News feed is clearly edited. But Most Recent will show everything right?
I can hear you now – not delivering the posts contravenes the whole Facebook model. We’d all be up in arms if our posts and updates were not received.
In a month-long experiment with a FB newbie, two dozen interns checked to see if the newbie’s posts appeared in their feed. Their newbie varied his posts by content and type over the period as part of the experimental design. Late in October 2010, Weber posted his report on what makes a FB post worthy of disseminating. Newbies have low priority. (Some interns never saw any of newbie’s posts.) Links trump plain status updates. Photos and videos are prized. The more people comment on a post, the more likely it will be seen (and if that’s not chicken/egg, I don’t know what is). Think of it this way – they want you on the site, clicking around, looking at things, coming back, clicking again. Photos, posted links, and people with a zillion friends drive user engagement, and are therefore coin of the realm for the news feed.
This actually helped me make sense of a personal puzzle. I would look at my most recent feed, wonder about a particular friend not shown, go to their profile and see all sorts of current things that never made it to my news feed. I never checked dates/times – I just figured that other posts crowded them off my home page of presented posts. Now I know that FB’s algorithm had made a decision that my friend’s post was not one I needed to see. In a mobile device world, FB may decide to privilege the feed over the profile. “Facebook… continues to redefine ‘what's important to you’ as ‘what's important to other people,’ ” Weber concluded.
So, what might this mean for you, Gentle Reader? Don’t assume your friends all saw what you posted – some will, some won’t. If you really want someone to see what you post, tag them, or send them a message. If you want to keep up with particular friends, check their profile. Or go old school and try some synchronous face time (what a concept!!)…
Weber wasn’t the first to talk about this algorithm, only the more widely read. In April 2010, FB engineers at the F8 conference gave the best look under the hood to date, describing a formula called EdgeRank that valued the type of item posted, the age of the item, and the relationship between the poster and the friend who interacted with it. Extra credit readers can see the engineers' speech here, about 22 minutes in.
There’s another clue to the algorithm in a new feature (actually a revamped one) called Groups. Using the groups you build or are listed in, along with what they already know about your friendship circle, they can make even finer distinctions about which posts from which people to display. Recently announced FB messaging is supposed to be superior to email by filtering out messages from people who aren’t in your network (turning email about changes in your travel itinerary into de facto spam). But that’s another blog post, for another day.