Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Big Thumbs Down For Facebook

I admit it. I have spent a lot of time on Facebook--hours and hours of my life that I will never get back.

For the past six years, I've been logging on to Facebook nearly every day and usually several times a day if there were events and issues everyone was talking about. From trashing Sarah Palin to heated discussions over the Casey Anthony verdict to making those silly lists of 25 Random Things, there was always something I wanted to comment on.

One thread especially stands out. A friend from high school posted a photo of herself and her sister taken during our town's sesquicentennial celebration, when Bataiva's entire population of 1700 or so joined in, wearing pioneer outfits and getting photographed at Nash's Drug Store.

Her post was flooded with comments from people all over the country who'd been in that small Ohio town in 1964, when they turned Main Street into a carnival and we all got parts in the town pageant.

Facebook gave us a portal back in time, to share our memories of a relatively obscure event that was a big deal to us. Where else could you do that?

That was then. This is now.

Something changed. I noticed the same updates appeared at the top of my news feed for hours at a time. And they were from people I barely knew, while my niece's posts disappeared all together.

It all made sense after seeing this video by Derek Muller, creator of the Youtube channel Veritaseum. Instead of all your friends' updates appearing in your news feed as they're posted, Facebook has come up with an algorithm to manipulate them so only the ones deemed most popular or most important or maybe just whatever is the most pleasing to Facebook will appear.

That's why posts from my friend Sara Shaber never seemed to slide down and whenever I scrolled down all I'd see were lots of those little bits of silliness from George Takei.

As Muller says in his video, part of the reason for the change is to cut down on the noise. If you have 800 friends all posting at once, obviously you can't possibly read through all of them.

But Facebook wants to make money so it's decided to limit how many of your friends and fans see your most recent post. If you want it to go to everyone, you have to shell out seven bucks.

What's going on with Facebook is similar to what happened to Newsweek a few years ago. I was a loyal subscriber for decades, looking forward to receiving my copy every Tuesday, knowing I'd be reading in depth analysis of recent events, letters to the editor, the Conventional Wisdom, a selection of political cartoons and a column by George Will or Anna Quindlen.

First it stopped coming every Tuesday. Those special "Double Issues" started happening more often, allowing the magazine to skip a week of delivery. Worse yet were the format changes. The Letters to the Editor section was cut. The political cartoons were cut. Anna Quindlen's column at the back was replaced with "My Favorite Mistake," where celebrities recalled things that they'd done wrong that somehow turned out right in the end.

Basically, Newsweek was trying to appeal to all the people who turned to the internet for their news and failing miserably. Seeing as how it was no longer the magazine I enjoyed, I cancelled my subscription, as did everyone else.

What Facebook doesn't understand is that in their efforts to make their venture profitable, they are cutting the things that their users like most, causing them to leave in droves.

Just like we did with Myspace.

I'm still a loyal user more or less. But if something better comes along (Google Plus anybody?) and all my friends are there, count me in.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon

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