A point of clarification before the berating begins… I understand EdgeRank. I know how (or as much as Facebook chooses to disclose how) it works. I know how to game it, how to ensure high placement, and how to get your brand to appear consistently. That’s not what this is about. My intent here is to convey my absolute loathing for this horrific deployment as the most inconsistent, user-UNfriendly, haphazard “innovation” ever. Am I being too blunt? Yes, I do struggle with that.
Assumptions about Zuck:
So let’s assume that Zuckerberg, removing him from “The Social Network” portrait, was actually a fairly savvy independent contractor prior to becoming the overlord of our online social life. If we can agree on this, then we can assume that Zuck knew how to turn a buck.
As is the nature with independent coders, typically the end-goal is to make a killing on deployment and haphazard the maintenance. Meaning: Facebook was never a long term plan. It was an innovative web application that had the potential to turn a lot cash.
In the typical Gen-Y way, projects must be positioned in a “fight the man” type of attitude so he can’t exactly let anyone know that he wants to turn a buck. He deploys it to a bunch of schools, thinking an alumnae association or hell, maybe the school, will even pay for it. The adoption goes better and a lot quicker than he thought. TheFacebook is spreading like a venereal disease in a frat house. He holds his cards, chooses not to show them just yet. Enter some massive Paypal funding and we get a bit closer to the Zuck we have today.
Ah yes, but profitability becomes a higher concern when you get some high-profile seed money. Zuckerberg needs to think longer term. Not so coincidentally around the time Facebook opens up to non-collegiate users, a primitive version of EdgeRank is produced. Whether this was Zuck’s innovation or spurted by pushing from funding sources, we’ll never know, but in this action Zuck graduated from an independent contractor to a strategic entrepreneur. EdgeRank works a bit like Google, for you non-web-developer types. It orders the content that you see (in this case, on your default news feed) by what it determines to be most relevant (or if you prefer, important). The way this is spun to the public when Facebook hits the 400,000,000+ user mark and brands are getting interested, is a way in which the developers can keep you from being overwhelmed by your news feed. Fast forward to 2012, and though EdgeRank has evolved, it’s still inherently WRONG (not flawed, just plain WRONG).
Why EdgeRank Fails:
- I want to see all that’s happened since the last time I checked Facebook. By ordering my feed in terms of mixed media and most likes, you are forcing me to look at duplicate content that I’ve already decided I either don’t care about or have maxed out my engagement upon. Facebook’s response? When you’re done with it, click the down arrow to the right of the store and click “Hide Story.” Seriously? I have 50+ stories that I’m done reading for now. I am not clicking on each one. I’m pretty sure making me click TWICE just to make browsing easier and hide the garbage I’ve already read violates every web usability principle ever… (these aren’t new concepts).
- Clicking on the sort button and hitting “Most Recent” is not an option for a lot of users. Has Facebook seen its usage demographics? For the first time ever, the technology neophytes are being dragged away from their typewriters and abaci and actually digging the technology thing. When they load “The Google” (synonymous for the internet) and search for Facebook and finally remember their password is fluffy, they are given a feed ordered in nothing that could even resemble logic to them. They assume it is what it is and start scrolling. This isn’t due to lack of intelligence or even lack of savvy-ness. The assumption is just there that when logging into Facebook, you’ll see what’s been happening around your social world since the last time you checked Facebook 2 hours ago. Here’s a conversation I had with my grandma, where it got even more complicated because she couldn’t see a message she posted her default newsfeed. Yes, it took her two hours to find the “Most Recent” option under Sort. She’s highly intelligent, just needs things to be a bit more clear than a 6pt drop down. *sigh… Farmville and grandmas…
- My friends are stupid and people are stupid. They don’t know what I want to see. Just because they are all commenting like it’s a newscast announcing flurries doesn’t mean I want to see it. We all have those weird real life friends that have capped the Facebook friend limit of 5,000. They post a status of what they are eating for lunch and get 652 comments within 30 seconds. Not only do I not care about this, but it kills a little part of my soul to see it. Here’s the thing, this happens multiple times per hour. My default news feed leaves me hating how you don’t need a license to use social media and feeling really badly about how unpopular I am at all the same time. Not good.
- Your intent was wrong. If Facebook’s intent was geared towards reducing the amount of brand spam in my feed, here’s a novel idea, if I was discerning enough to LIKE a brand, I may want to see everything they post… even if it isn’t mixed media or super popular. Hell, I like some obscure things. Please let me see it by default… please? Alright, alright, I got Facebook’s intent wrong! They were using it as a future positioning device for sponsored stories. On the former, no one should be penalized for posting non-mixed-media content, being new, or being unpopular. I’m the most cold-hearted person I know, but I even think that’s wrong. On the latter, there’s a solution that can make everyone happy without f*$(ing up my whole default feed.
Scenario 1: Penalizing for lack of mixed media, novelty, and lack of popularity:
Startup Game Studio ABC posts an update. I liked them a while ago, I thought they were promising, and I want to keep an eye on them. They only have like 200 fans, they post their update at 7AM because they’re programmers, not social media gurus, and no one gets a chance to see that they got some killer seed money to get a new game concept off the ground. I miss the update all together, as do my friends, and their friends, and the other 199 fans that could have exponentially shared the news. Startup Game Studio ABC dies a slow death and kills a puppy before they close.
Not good, Facebook, not good.
Scenario 2: Sponsored Stories need to be at the top of the default feed so they see a decent return
I LOVE profitability and I love to see brands engage in smart marketing. Sponsored stories should be at the top… all the time (whether Most Recent or Top Stories sort). But, if one keeps in mind good usability, let’s take one sponsored story and sticky it to the top of the default and non-default newsfeed. Users can scroll… 1 story isn’t obtrusive and brands still get eyeballs on their ad. Everyone wins.
- It is counter to every thing that Facebook has setup for themselves as an organization. This is where I get the most irritated. The timeline is literally being shoved down every individual and brand throat. Fine. I get the sappy emotional garbage. I get the logic to it. I get it. I may not love it right now, but I’ll learn to do so. The concept is rich and warm and if I’ve learned anything it’s that a demo that slants female LOVES some emotional junk. Hell, sometimes I even dig it. We live chronologically, Facebook wants to be our life… online… or whatever Orwellian control-gasm Zuckerberg had, our profiles reflect the order of our lives, and that seems logical. So the profile pages are chronological, the brand pages will be chronological; all in sync with time. …but the default page when you login is NOT chronological. Scroll to 1:00 to about 1:10 on the below video. That’s how I feel about this last point.
WARNING: This is Lewis Black. He does cuss frequently and with intense amounts of rage.
Yes, I know, Facebook has been so kind to store my preference and even remember it when it feels like it. It’s not that big of a deal! I avoided all the technicalities, all the nitty-gritty factors on how EdgeRank works because that’s not important today. Today, my undying rage is not for my own user experience, but the countless experiences of users who choose not to select Most Recent or simply lack the know-how to do so. I cannot reach these people from brands unless I post content that is FORCED mixed-media (consistently blending my media mix ratios) and ensure everything is major, super-engaging news. I cannot reach these people from my personal profile unless I add a blurry, NSFW picture or pay my brother to comment and like. Sometimes, as a brand or an individual, I just want to document a little bit of history and have the people that matter to me or my brand the most see it. While we can all “always be on” and make anything news AND news-feed worthy… sometimes, this takes a little bit of life and authenticity away from us, counterproductive to Facebook’s big-picture goals.
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