The News Feed: User Wants vs Facebook Needs

Yesterday I talked about the new Twitter profile and why I think it isn’t that important as a product differentiator. Users spend much more time looking at their news feed than looking at profiles.

Give Users the News Feed We Want by SocialFixer

Give Users the News Feed We Want by SocialFixer

So what is the great differentiator? The news feed. This great post from Matt Kruse at  SocialFixer summarizes what users really want from their news feed. At the top of the list: “All my friends’ posts. Not just what you think I will like.” This is the most important issue and probably the biggest frustration users have with Facebook.  Posts from their friends are what they log in to see.

Now spend a moment and read the great analysis of Facebook’s news feed algorithm by Josh Constine at TechCrunch. In a nutshell: Facebook thinks the unfiltered news feed is too overwhelming for users to see it all and therefore it needs to be filtered. Filtering takes into consideration the popularity of the poster, the post itself and the poster’s relationship with the viewer.

I disagree with the premise that the unfiltered news feed is overwhelming. If a poster shares posts that are too inane and too frequent, the viewer will block them. There is already a built-in control for this behavior and Facebook doesn’t necessarily need to add that to their filtering algorithm.

But Facebook feels that they do. Why? It seems like Facebook lumps people and businesses together. This is wrong. From Facebook’s point of view it should be OK for users to block people who post too much. However, it really doesn’t want users to block businesses that post to much because then the businesses advertising effectiveness would drop and after all, Facebook needs to make money.

Facebook's News Feed Filtering Algorithm via Techcrunch

Facebook’s News Feed Filtering Algorithm via Techcrunch

Also, the filtering algorithm is really harmful to my friends who may not share often and when they do, it’s to a small group of people who are their friends, who probably don’t “like” them often enough. But it is exactly these people who I want to hear from and it is exactly these people I want to be able to always read my posts. By measuring popularity in its various aspects, you are filtering the most important people in my news feed. Also, let’s face it, these friends are not going to start paying Facebook so that I can see their posts.

The solution: don’t filter people at all. Allow users to block users they feel are posting too much and allow users to block types of posts (like the game posts we were allowed to block a few years ago) from users they’d still like to see other posts from. For businesses go ahead and use the filtering algorithm and even make it more money-driven. This will help users like Matt feel good and continue using Facebook because they are getting what they want: all of their friends’ posts.

A final note: Facebook has an amazing competitive advantage with their user base and how its users have connected to each other. Even after years of using Twitter, Google+ and other social networks, I’m connected to many of my friends and family on Facebook and most of them are active only on Facebook. I do want to continue to log in and see their posts. Use that advantage, Facebook, don’t abuse it.



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