I read a blog article written by Some Guy On the Internet who was performing an experiment. Instead of clicking “Like” on articles, statuses, and comments his friends posted, he would withhold clicking and, instead, would make actual comments if the urge warranted. What he found is that his Facebook experience became more human, less automatic. He was seeing more posts from more people, and less reposts of links designed to inspire outrage and click-through page views (outrage is a cottage industry now…ask me about my theory some time). In a word, his experience was better, at least subjectively.
With that report, I decided to do my own experiment two weeks ago. I’ll admit, it subjectively feels different, perhaps better (I’m not sure how I can even objectively quantify the difference in experience). I do feel less outraged, perhaps even more engaged with what my close friends (or who Facebook thinks are my close friends) are doing. It’s not terribly surprising.
The filtering algorithms that decide which posts to show us (out of the thousands that our hundreds of Friends post every day) need help, and they use the shorthand of the Like to decide what to give us more of. There’s a certain amount of activity on our walls that Facebook must provide us in order to keep us interested. If they give us too much, we complain about overload and burn out. If they give us too little, we lose interest and stop visiting. There’s a magic sweet spot that the site’s admins and social scientists are trying to hit to keep us hanging out.
It’s a fine line that varies from person to person, and in situations where FB doesn’t have enough to show us, the algorithms resort to presenting stuff similar to what we’ve Liked in the past (among other tricks, such as giving us wall notifications about what our Friends have Liked). If we’ve previously Liked a high enough quantity of lost dog posts, for instance, FB will give us more lost dog posts, etcetera.
By withdrawing myself from the automatic Like behavior that I’d grown accustomed to, the machine has less to go on, and so it has to draw from the larger body of posts by my Friends to see if there’s anything there that interests me enough to Like or comment. The algorithms get hungry. What I’ve found in this “algorithmic ketosis” is a steady increase in posts from Friends I’ve not seen on my wall in a long while. This makes me happy.
My, how I’ve missed those folks.