In my last post, I tried to make sense of why the changes Facebook made to its news feed Tuesday night bothered me. The short version? I don’t want my relationships with my friends managed by Facebook’s algorithms, I want to manage those relationships directly. Someone named Michael commented on that post, saying the following:
“Don’t like the Facebook algorithms? SCROLL DOWN! Your chronological news feed is still there, down below it.”
I’m not sure why Michael broke out the all caps for this, but if he’s right, if the (reverse) chronological news feed is still available, below the “top stories” the Facebook algorithms have selected for me, then I would certainly feel better about using Facebook. I’m pretty sure Michael wasn’t right Tuesday night, when the new news feed was rolled out. But I knew that Facebook often tinkers with new features after they’ve been debuted, so perhaps Michael was now correct and I didn’t have to worry so much about Facebook’s algorithms messing up my news feed.
I decided to avoid Facebook for 24 hours, then login and see what the news feed looked like. I’ve just done so, and here’s what I found: The “recent stories” found beneath the “top stories” don’t include everything my friends have posted, just most things. And what the “recent stories” leave out seems to be at least somewhat predictable.
First, here’s a screenshot of what I saw when I opened Facebook after 24 hours away:
I’m told that there have been seven “top stories” since my last visit and that more than 100 more stories are available below the top stories. See that notification on the right? It says, “Your recent stories are now easier to get to. Click or scroll down to see the rest of what’s news.” That wasn’t there the other day, and I’m guessing Facebook added that feature and the notification about it in response to the backlash about the new news feed. Good for them. It certainly clarifies how the new news feed works. Algorithmically selected content appears at the top of the news feed, and everything else (in theory) appears below. Michael will be glad to know that you don’t even have to scroll down, you can just click the “100+ More Recent Stories” to jump down and see them.
So far, I’m seeing a much more intuitive approach to combining the “top stories” and “most recent” views of the news feed. But I wondered if the “recent stories” below the “top stories” really included everything recent from my friends. So I pulled up my Facebook news feed on my Droid using the TweetDeck app and compared that version of my news feed with the “recent stories” on Facebook.com. What did I find?
- Most stories appeared in both places.
- Maybe 8 to 10 stories appeared on Facebook.com but not in the TweetDeck app.
- Only four recent stories appeared on the TweetDeck app but not on Facebook.com.
What were the four stories that were missing on Facebook.com?
- Two were posts by Facebook pages that I’ve “liked,” Vanderbilt University and the movie Jurassic Park.
- One was another page-related story, a recommendation a friend of mine wrote for a local business, Franklin Creative Suite. (I didn’t know you could write recommendations for Facebook pages, but perhaps that feature is new this week, too.)
- The fourth was a post from a friend of mine that Facebook had placed in the “top stories” section at the top of the news feed.
So what does the “recent stories” section of the news feed miss? Posts from some, but not all, pages I’ve liked. Certain kinds of stories, like a recommendation for a page. And anything already in the “top stories” section. The latter omission is the one that bothers me the most. Since “top stories” aren’t included in “recent stories,” if I want to see everything my friends are posting on Facebook, I need to read through both sections, which means I can’t read all stories in reverse chronological order after all. The “top stories” appear out of chronological order. If I head straight for the “recent stories” section (by clicking or scrolling), I’ll miss the posts that Facebook things I’ll be most interested in.
Consequently, my original concern about Facebook’s algorithms managing how I interact with my friends on Facebook still stands, although the algorithms aren’t messing with things as much as I had feared (or as much as they were actually doing Tuesday night). I can see all of my friends’ posts (except ones in certain categories, like recommendations) by reading through “top stories” and “recent stories,” although I can’t see them all in order.
However, I’m still not a fan of the changes, for the following reasons:
- Although I’m likely to read beyond the “top stories” to see all my friends’ posts, not everyone will. And so my concern that many people will be experiencing Facebook through filter bubbles still stands. There were people using the “top stories” view of the news feed before the changes, and there will be people relying on “top stories” in the new Facebook. Do those people understand what kind of trust they’re placing in Facebook’s algorithms? Do they realize that they may miss important stories on Facebook because of those algorithms?
- When I access Facebook through third-party apps, like TweetDeck, I can’t be sure I’m getting everything. The changes to the news feed mean that TweetDeck, at least, is missing a fair number of posts. Sure, I could use the official Facebook app on my Droid. I’m guessing it works just like Facebook.com now. But I prefer TweetDeck. And now I’m wary of accessing any Facebook content outside of Facebook.com itself. This makes sense given what I know of Facebook’s business plan; they want me to spend as much time on Facebook.com as possible so they can serve me more ads.
It’s also possible that the “recent stories” section of the news feed does not, in fact, show everything from one’s friends if one has, say, over a thousand Facebook friends. I only have 347 (down from 348 earlier in the week after one friend quit Facebook entirely), so I can’t test how “recent stories” works for those with many more friends than me.
If the news feed changes were the only changes announced by Facebook this week, I might be happy to adapt my reading habits to the “top stories” / “recent stories” news feed and keep using Facebook. However, I also saw Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote at the F8 event on Thursday, where he announced other new Facebook features, such as the timeline and new kinds of app integration. That keynote has just about convinced me to stop using Facebook altogether. More on that later.
Image: “Stacked,” Saxon Moseley, Flickr (CC)