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The problem with Facebook

I’ve been using Facebook for eight years – seriously, since 2004. In that time I’ve accumulated a lot of “friends” who aren’t.

That girl who used to live down the hall from me junior year of college. That random dude my wife and I met at a party a few years back. Old classmates that I was never really friends with but felt compelled to add as friends on Facebook.

Sometimes I’ve found surprise connections with people that I didn’t known I had – a shared love of pirates, for example – but more often than not, my feed has been cluttered with posts and photos from people that I never interact with.

Not in real life. Not on Facebook. Not ever.

So two weeks ago, I decided to prune my friends list. I removed well over a hundred friends from Facebook. They were all people I hadn’t interacted with in years.

And a funny thing happened.

Oh, I remember you!

Suddenly, I started seeing all these really interesting posts, links and photos from people that I hadn’t before. Funny, insightful, and heartwarming stuff from people I assumed just didn’t post to Facebook.

I refuse to believe that all these people started sharing way more stuff the day after I purged my friend’s list. Which leaves me with only one reasonable conclusion.

Facebook’s algorithm is terrible.

Epic Fail

Facebook’s entire purpose is to “help you connect and share with the people in your life.” It says so right on their website.

But if that’s the case, why am I missing so much great stuff?

There’s virtually (and in many cases literally) no difference between content sorted by “Top Stories” and by “Most Recent” in my feed. And “Most Recent” doesn’t even actually show me the most recent stuff, because if I click on my “Close Friends” list, I invariably see stuff from them that wasn’t in my feed but that’s newer than what’s there.

These are people I’ve specifically identified as my close friends. Why isn’t their stuff always in my feed?

And here’s the big problem with Facebook: It’s supposed to be a way for you to keep in touch with the people you care about, but it fails miserably.

It simply doesn’t fulfill it’s main purpose.

A simpler time

This wasn’t always case. When Facebook had fewer bells and whistles, it was actually a great tool for keeping in touch with old friends and making new ones.

Now, it’s better suited to selling ads and playing Farmville.

Notes & Further Reading

  1. James Kwak explores Facebook’s long-term challenges, elaborating on their failure to fulfill their core value to users.
  2. Listen Less, a piece I wrote a few weeks ago on the idea of “social pruning.”

8 Comments

Leave a comment or contact me on Twitter at @ChrisFerdinandi.


Stew

I’m surprised you managed to remove 100 friends. That must have taken you FOREVER!


Jonathan Hyland

Well said, Chris.

I deleted my Facebook nearly a week ago. I thought I’d have withdrawals – and to my pleasant surprise, I actually feel pretty damn liberated.

My decision to quit is actually similar to what you’ve pointed out – I saw a picture of an ultrasound of some woman whom I hadn’t spoken to in years. It hit me at that point: why do I care that she’s having a kid? The joys of childbirth aside, much like you, I was being exposed to posts and content that overall had no meaningful impact for me.

Granted, other things are preventing me from re-joining Facebook – among them, their marketing ploys and the “Suggested Friends” feature – but the problem of relevant content still remains.


Scott Ziegler

Agree 100% – Facebook is way too cluttered and difficult to navigate these days. Top Stories rarely contain information I’m interested in, and I’ve had to un-subscribe to friend’s feeds that contained crazy, nebulous information from fringe web-sources.

I’ve removed dozens from my friends list, the problem is that once I do, FB suggests that to them that I would be a good friend so I receive friends requests that sit unanswered in my inbox. FB has a lot of good attached to it – I did reconnect with a cousin that I had seen in decades – but it has become far too noisy.


Chris Ferdinandi

@Stew - When you start with about 400 people, it’s easier than you’d think. I used some simple criteria. Have I commented on anything of yours in the last six months? Do I know you in real life? If I saw you in real life, would I say hello? If the answer to any of those was no, I defriended.

@Jonathan - I’m still waiting for a better alternative to come along. Facebook does still keep me connected with folks I care about – it just does a bad job at it. For example, my roommate from when I studied in Australia lives half way across the country in Michigan. I haven’t seen him in almost eight years, but Facebook helps us keep in touch better than a periodic email ever could. I had high hopes that Google+ would be a serious replacement, but I think their biggest struggle has been overcoming the inertia of eight years of photos and updates. There’s a real cost to switching services.

@Scott - I couldn’t agree more! The more pressure they feel to make a profit, they more lame stuff they add to squeeze more money out of users. I get it – businesses need to make money. I wonder what would happen if they tried a subscription service instead of an ad model?


Adam Axon

I’ve been “facebook culling” for a few years now. It’s an essential practice in order to keep a top of the noise that facebook can generate!

Much like @Jonathan, my first cull was prompted by seeing a status update and realising I had no interest whatsoever in the individual. I went from around 550 friends down to 200 in one go! At the moment, I’m sitting on just over 100 people. To @stew’s point, facebook made it much easier to remove friends back in the day then they do now! It’s a nightmare. For a work around I suggest using the iPad app to remove friends, it’s much simpler.

Much like Twitter, I’ve adopted an approach of wanting my social networks to be a facilitation tool to help develop real life relationships. If you lose control of your news stream that’s impossible. @Chris, your post on your following strategy for twitter was a big help!

You have to ask yourself what it is that Facebook wants out of you. Over the years this has obviously changed, often to the determent of the user. With the IPO I don’t see this getting any better. Facebook need you to have massive large networks, so that marketers get more bang for their advertising dollar.

To be honest, if it wasn’t for the fact that I live in the UK and the majority of my friends and loved ones are back in Australia I would probably have quit the service. It’s too useful to that end, to quit though, so for now I continue to “cull” to keep the noise down!


Chris Ferdinandi

@Adam - Great tip on using the iPad app. That’s what I did, too. A simple swipe to the right and you’re good to go!


Jay Dolan

I’ve been trying to get my newsfeed to only give me “important updates” for many of my “friends.”

So far, it’s been a total bust.

It’s been a while since my last purge. I might need to get to work this weekend.


Chris Ferdinandi

@Jay - That whole busted algorithm thing again. I can’t figure out how Facebook decides what I’d find important or not, but it’s wrong far more than it’s right. Have fun!

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