Why Life Without Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm Would Suck

By Justin Lafferty 

Facebook has an algorithm (externally known as EdgeRank) that determines who sees which posts at which times. It’s meant to present users the content with which they’ll be most likely to engage. Many users hate it. Even more page administrators despise it. But can it actually help both? Yes. There’s already a site where every post (whether it’s from your best friend or a random brand) is weighted equally, and it’s called Twitter.

Think about your personal life for a moment. You have different subgroups of friends. Some friends (and relatives) you see regularly. You talk with them on the phone, text them, and hang out with them regularly. Then there are co-workers, casual acquaintances, and other friends with whom you’d like to stay in touch, but they don’t take up a significant portion of your life. Finally, there are the high-school classmates you haven’t said a word to since you turned the tassel.

Do you weigh all of these connections exactly the same in your mind and your heart? Probably not.

If you subscribe to a business’ mailing list, you likely don’t want to hear every single message, plugging up your inbox with constant offers and updates. If you’re interested in more information in the business, you likely either visit the store or check out their website.

Facebook works the same way. It brings more updates from the people and pages you care about, along with just the important updates from people on the fringes of your life.

How It Helps Users

People do spend a lot of time on News Feed — but not an infinite amount of time. If you wanted to see everything from all of your Facebook connections in real time, you’d never leave the computer, and the feed would be constantly updating — just like Twitter.

Facebook is not Twitter.

Facebook’s algorithm takes into account the relationship between the sharer and the user, timeliness, as well as how often the user has engaged with the sharer in the past.

When everything is weighted equally — meaning you have equal opportunities to see a co-worker’s cat meme, grandma’s shared recipes, and your best friend’s engagement photo — you have even less of a chance of seeing what you really care about. Users spend a lot of time on Facebook, but not an infinite amount of time. You’d actually end up spending more time on Facebook to see the updates you care about if there wasn’t an algorithm in place to bring the most important stuff to the forefront. Users would be too busy scrolling through cat photos, political rants, party pictures, and viral videos to see posts they’d really want to experience.

Users who say they want to see more from a page (even everything) can accomplish this in just a couple of clicks by accessing that page’s Timeline. It’s not a big inconvenience.

Let’s take Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comparison of Facebook’s redesigned News Feed to a newspaper. On the front page of a newspaper, you’ll see the most important stories of the day. That’s what the News Feed does. You can then drill down to see only the sports section or the funnies, if you’re interested. The front page of the newspaper changes in San Francisco, New York, Paris, and in each city in the world.

It would be unrealistic to expect the front page of the newspaper to have funnies at the top, a city council story next to it, with some classifieds and a popular sports story below the fold. The front page of the newspaper, much like News Feed, is used to bring together the most important stories. Just like a newspaper, if you want to read more from a certain page or certain friend, you can flip to their Timeline.

How It Helps Pages

Despite the myriad reports of decreased reach with Facebook’s algorithm changes, the system actually does help pages. Right now, pages are fighting for a finite space — the News Feed. Users don’t sit there scrolling for hours on end, looking for every update from every connection.

By opening the floodgates and allowing every single post to be weighted the same, that means there are even more posts in your fans’ News Feeds. For instance, if they once saw 50 posts in a half-hour browsing session, they’ll see 100 posts in that same half-hour — from all of their friends, family, and pages they’ve liked. That’s more competition for your page’s post. If that fan is a dedicated fan of the brand, they will assuredly miss messages because there’s no weight in the system.

Facebook’s algorithm actually helps marketing efforts. While overall reach may be down (and Facebook expert Jon Loomer recently published some great points about why chasing reach is often useless), engagement is up. Facebook’s algorithm puts posts in front of the eyeballs who will be most influential — the fans who have done more than just click the like button.

While your page’s posts won’t reach all fans, there is no other platform on Earth that will accomplish this, short of going door-to-door to each fan to spread the word. As far as a free (or minimally charging) marketing landscape, Facebook is a godsend. It’s more important to have a fan actually comment or share a post, rather than simply see it. Reach, much like likes, is a metric that can be misleading. By focusing on engagement and finding ways to get fans more interested in the content (rather than complaining about those who can’t see it), page admins will discover more success on Facebook.

So while the algorithm may hurt the total number of people who can see a page’s post, it makes it so that the people who actually care about the page will see more posts.

Readers: Do you agree or disagree?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.