Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Missing 1/2 the Facebook conversation?

Since, say, about Oct. 23rd, I've been having the strangest experience with Facebook. Maybe you have, too. People would say, oh, didn't you see that on so-and-so's Facebook? No, I didn't. Wierd, they are a "friend" or I am a fan of the page in question. Their updates feed into my FB home page.

So I think - maybe it's me. I'm so crazy busy I rarely got onto Facebook at home these days and if anything's being done with FB for work, I'm getting it via my Seesmic desktop (on the Macbook). So I figured maybe it's Seesmic. Maybe I'm not seeing everything because of the client I'm using. And I'm hardly using the iPhone FB application...

Yesterday morning, I updated our organization's Facebook page from home. I was already logged in on my personal account. I expected to see my update in my personal FB homepage, since I'm a fan of our page. But nothing. I waited 1/2 an hour. Still nothing. Then I started looking into it.
It turns out that Facebook's application is "helping me" fight information overload by automatically applying its brand of a "smart filter" to all of my friends and the pages I've fanned & keeping me from seeing their updates. (see: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/new_facebook_newsfeed_filters.php for a bit more on this)

There is an easy fix once you discover what's been happening to all of the status updates you thought you were seeing but that it turns out you were missing... Follow your page down to the bottom of the "News Feed" and click on the "Edit Options". A dialogue box will appear to show your the friends and pages FB "hid" from your news. Click on all of those whose updates you want to see (much as you used to with the old Status update system).

I think that the worst parts of this are that - if you've been off of FB for a while and get back on, or somehow else avoided the big news about this change, you're bewildered and missing out on conversations for reasons unbeknownst to you.

From an organizational perspective, it's REALLY BAD, because if you take the time & resources to build a Facebook page, why should FB decide to automatically hide its updates (the key way it interacts with its fans) from fans. And you can't exactly use a nice little status update to alert fans that they might be missing your status updates. Fans - people on FB who CHOSE to fan you (much as I did), but who had FB's automated "smart filter" applied to them without their realization are probably out there just thinking that the page hasn't been updated all this time.

[Rant/Aside: Joy. You've saved me from myself and the information overload I was subjecting myself to. Thank you so much, Facebook! I couldn't possibly decide how to ignore the updates that I didn't like myself. I couldn't possibly have chosen to get more updates like such and such or less like such and such. I really needed Facebook to tell me that I should no longer be getting updates from MY SISTER, MY HUSBAND, MY ORGANIZATION'S PAGE, but that I should get updates from folks I almost never see & have only had a brief work affiliation with. Brilliant, Facebook! I know I can't complain - I'm not allowed. You're providing me with service for free... and heck, if I actually want the fans of my org's page to see our status updates, I guess I'll have to do the "paid ads" to promote the page, eh?]

Would there have been a really simple fix for all of this? Some suggestions for FB for the future (not that they give a hoot, given their responsiveness to the many end-users and organizations who are now excluded from conversation with others):

1. don't make a "smart filter" whose algorithm is unclear, but from what info I've found out about it at least partially relies on one's overall "popularity" to decide if one's updates should be hidden (too few friends = automagically hidden?). There are people whom I'm very close to who don't have a large NUMBER of FB friends, but who are truly close to their FB friends. You've excluded them from the conversation because they are not "popular"? FB, is this jr. high? C'mon.
2. never AUTOMATICALLY exclude information. Automatically INCLUDE, then allow people to "choose" your smart filter. When people are in the FILTER MODE, make it really obvious that you're hiding info & make it ridiculously obvious to figure out how to see all of that hidden stuff.
3. Don't rely on ReadWriteWeb, blogs, newspapers, Twitter, whatever, to spread the word to FB users. I couldn't possibly click on every link the Twitterers I follow send out. There are many days I can't afford to spend time on either FB or Twitter (though I'd far prefer doing that to chasing down/troubleshooting frustrating 3rd-party vendor sites, like FB). Instead, send an email using the FB system (or even the email address a user signed up with) warning people that you've made changes x, y, and z and how they can replicate/get back to the functionality that they are used to. Or at least warn us.
4. If an organization is devoting resources to building in your little FB universe, instead of just in the regular web space, do them the courtesy of alerting their fans & admins that there's the potential for a disconnect between the organizastion and its fans and give them information on how to mitigate this.

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