Out of the Box Blog

Out of the Box

Facebook, must I de-friend you?

26 December 2012 · By Kylie Davis

Facebook’s new algorithm is seriously undermining the social media channel’s engagement model — by crowding users’ news feeds with unwanted advertising and “friend” posts.

Dear Facebook,

We need to talk about our relationship. For months now, I’ve been unhappy. It’s not me, it’s you. You have changed.

When we first hooked up, I loved how you knew all my friends. It was great finding out about the lives of people from across my life, seeing photos of their partners, their homes, sharing again in their silliness and smart comments, and engaging with their view on the world.

So many people who just hadn’t changed at all — making witty ripostes, getting advice. It was just like they were in the next room.

I loved how I had access again to the lives of people I genuinely cared about, even though we didn’t have time to catch up physically. I loved that I have seen photos of weddings, new babies, and videos of shining moments in real time, while debating politics, mourning losses, and receiving birthday greetings from ex-boyfriends long lost and now forgiven.

And you helped me reconnect to colleagues and people whose company I had enjoyed, but for whom time and circumstance had moved us on before the friendship could flourish. You gave us a space to get to know each other better.

And because of you, I now have a close friendship with my husband’s cousin who lives on the other side of the world, and we’re closer than ever to his Mum, which was difficult due to distance. I’m really grateful for that.

I have loved the shared recipes, been surprised by article recommendations, loved the silly memes, the cheering up when I was gloomy or down, and the occasional game across continents.

But then it took a turn. You changed your algorithm.

Suddenly, the memes were not well-thought out or occasional; they were everywhere. Instead of beloved friends in my feed, it became crowded with over-sharers — the occasional acquaintances, who were the most prolific, while genuine friends got lost in the white noise.

Attempts to downgrade them changed nothing. My feed is now cluttered with people I care only vaguely about.

And then came the advertising.

Now my feed is overwhelmed with advertising for products I have absolutely no interest in. You keep recommending I be friends with people I would actively cross the street to avoid.

And I think you’re lying to me. Yesterday, my husband and I went into the city for breakfast and Christmas shopping. We spent four hours together leaving our phones at home.

When I checked Facebook around 1 p.m., it told me that he had claimed and was recommending an offer from a retailer he hates, as were 2,573 others, and he had apparently done that “one hour ago.” He had not. He was not even online at the time. And when he checked his feed, it showed no activity of the kind.

That scared me.

It is extremely concerning that you appear to be misusing the names of my friends to make “personal” recommendations about services that I “might” like. What gives you the right to associate my name and profile with these brands to my friends? Or to misrepresent what my friends care about? Did I miss some obscure term and condition hidden in the back of your site?

Do I really think a mother of two kids who lives in the country and is a committed environmentalist “recommends” the oil company Shell? That my mother-in-law wants me to know she “recommends” a cosmetic surgeon? Or that I care that friends are visiting Ikea?

I do not for a moment believe that they are boasting on their streams about their banking preferences or latest choice in roofing products.

You tell me I don’t get it. That commercial reality demands change to ensure you survive. That since you’ve joined the cool gang of advertising partners and stock market analysts, you have turned the company performance around and Facebook is more valuable than ever.

But that’s not true. I do understand your commercial model — and as someone with a strong background in content, I’m concerned that your commercial model is now seriously undermining your engagement model.

And that will hurt you. That will kill you in the end.

Because, like me, others will start to walk away. We won’t go ballistic — there will be no storming off in tears and closing our accounts. We will just stop engaging. We will increasingly ignore you, and you will become less and less relevant and your claims more and more hollow.

I used to spend a couple of hours a day with you, Facebook. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I spend a couple of hours a week, and every week that falls off further because, increasingly, there is less and less reason to bother. Why go to a site that it is full of spam?

You’ve got my details. But the value of them will constantly decrease. It will take your advertisers a while to realise this. By the time they do, the tipping point will have been crossed. And one day you will just be a social network that I used to know, like MySpace.

But I want you to know that I’ve really loved our time together, Facebook. I hope you see this letter as an earnest attempt at intervention to bring you back to the ideals that made me — and so many millions — love you. Until that time, though, I can’t keep seeing you. I have to get real because there are just better things to do.

 

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About this blog

Kylie Davis is the head of real estate solutions, Australia and New Zealand, at CoreLogic, the world’s largest provider of property data. She was previously the network editor of real estate at News Corp Australia, managing editor of business development at Fairfax, and founder of The Village Voice group of newspapers. Follow her @kyliecdavis.


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