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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."