The funny thing about today’s big Facebook news feed change reveal and resulting mass complain-fest is that I already had the title and half of this blog written last week (I swear!). Well, the subtitle and outline at least. The other funny thing is that when I opened Facebook today my reaction was, “Finally! The thing they’ve been trying to make happen every two stinking weeks for the last year has arrived!”
This was not, you may have noticed, the bulk of Facebook users’ reactions.
But here’s the thing: whether or not casual users have been savvy to it, Facebook has been changing their news feed at a frantic rate for some time now. It has affected everyone on Facebook, but those who are most apt to notice are people like me, who are putting messages out every singe day from multiple accounts and measuring their success in “likes” and “interactions.” These changes have drastically impacted those numbers.
I’m loathe to turn this into a techie blog detailing why; I have no stomach for blogs like that, and I don’t think you really like them either. What does fascinate me, however, is our cultural reaction to these changes. What I’ve been intending to write about for some time is not the minutia of those changes, but the pace at which they are happening and how that breakneck speed is suddenly affecting (literally) the whole wide world.
When else in history has a private company had such an impact – held such a monopoly – over an important facet of our lives like how we connect to each other? Never. We can’t complain to Facebook or Twitter like we complain to the government. The companies hold power over us, true. And we have invested time, resources and reorganized our lives and businesses around their services.
But we don’t pay for them. And we don’t have a right to them. And – AND – these possessors of our interpersonal relationships are essentially being run by amateurs. I’m not talking about Mark Zukerberg’s age or proclivity for hoodies; everyone who operates these social networks are amateurs, because no one has ever done what they’re doing. There are no experts in the field of maintaining a global social network; they are amateurs by nature.
Twitter has taken a much more thoughtful approach to changing essential settings. They made one large and fundamental change to their feed about a year ago that, let’s be honest, was totally rad. Since then they’ve only made minor changes, all of which have benefitted users, like the add photo option and the link shrinking service.
Facebook, on the other hand, is a more complicated beast. They do garner some sympathy for having the weight of the actual world on their shoulders, but you’d think that would make them less cavalier about tossing in mammoth changes to the way they operate; you would be wrong on that point. They instead have drug the lot of us through each one. How is that good business sense? They decide to give something a go and test it out on an entire planet? As I stated earlier, the change they made today is really the culmination of every previous change rolled into one.* Why didn’t they just think things through, beta test and then roll it all at once like Twitter? I don’t know; they’re amateurs.
So the question is, what role do we have as a society that is now completely connected, but through a private and often bumbling service provider? Do we have social media rights? How would we define them? Should the government be involved? Should the US Post Office see this as an opportunity? Though Facebook certain isn’t required to tred more carefully and change more slowly, should they feel a cultural responsibility to do so? Do we deserve an explanation for their changes? We rely on social media now, both professionally and socially. How does the world’s new reliance on this technology jive with our powerlessness to control it?
I really have no clue. Any ideas?
* In case you were hoping for a techie blog about the Facebook changes and what I mean when I say the most recent change is the culmination of them all, here are the changes as I’ve observed them and how they relate to today’s change:
- Change one: Eliminating “fans” and expanding the definition of “like.” You used to say you “liked” Skittles because you wanted to put one in your mouth. Overnight hitting “like” on Skittles suddenly meant you wanted to get all of their updates.
- Winners: Big advertisers who wanted to give Facebook their money. So Facebook was likely a winner too.
- Losers: People who didn’t want their news feeds flooded with updates from big advertisers, and people like me with “fan” pages for meaningful things (like community organizations!) who now had to share the stage with Skittles.
- Change two: The “Most Recent” and “Top News” options appeared. Oops. Facebook realized that people didn’t actually want to see updates from Skittles. So, they thought they’d decide they’d filter people’s news feed for them. But alas, people just started hitting “Most Recent.” Weird – people don’t like Facebook deciding what they want to see.
- Winners: Nobody, really. Even the people who were too lazy or casual to switch the option at first eventually realized that they no longer could see the people they like to keep tabs on, but don’t interact with. So they chose to stalk people and read Skittles updates.
- Losers: All business pages and Facebook. It just didn’t work.
- Change Three: Pre-filtering even the “most recent” option. This really, really, really made me fit to be tied. You actually had to be social media savvy to find the option to allow you to actually see all of your friends and “liked” pages. Even when hitting “most recent” Facebook only allowed you to see those you interacted with. What if you don’t interact with your city’s official Facebook page but liked to follow it for local information? Too bad.
- Winners: Pages with high interaction rates, and people who comment all over everybody’s pages.
- Losers: People who really just “follow” pages rather than interact with them, information pages with low interaction rates and I have to say Facebook again. This was their most Big Brother-esque move. Boo on Facebook.
- Today: So Facebook found itself in a place where big businesses’ demand to be a part of the News Feed flooded people’s pages beyond functionality, and since then they have had a terrible time filtering out the nonsense pages from the things people genuinely care about. This most recent change is supposed to be a blend of all of these. People who are on Facebook all the time get both “top news” and minute-to-minute “most recent” news too. “Activities” are also shown on the front page, but don’t clutter the news feed. It’s a little chaotic looking, but I for one think it’s a good fix.
- Winners: Well, I’m happy for now. So there’s one.