Facebook is just fine

— June, 2013
 

Note: This was also posted over at Medium. In part because I wanted to see how it felt to use Medium for editing (I invited a few friends to read this beforehand), and also to test the efficacy of margin commenting.

I love Facebook.

There, I’ve said it.

It’s one of the very few “social” places I’d be genuinely sad to see gone from the internet.

That’s crazy, right? I mean, Facebook is just a personal data farm, isn’t it? It’s just a not-too-coy set of dopamine-optimized actions to trick you into dumping information about yourself into the magic Zucker Woodchipper? And do you know what comes out of the Zucker Woodchipper? Gold nuggets. Made of advertising. And then leprechauns dump those gold nuggets into political lobbying — ha ha!

I’m not denying any of this. It is an ad machine, in part. But that doesn’t mean Facebook can’t also provide value. (We’re partially to blame for these ad machines — we’ve given them permission to exist by not wanting to pay for things … but that’s another post.)

Ad issues aside, there is the possibility that nobody else derives the same value from Facebook that I do. Fair enough. But let me tell you why I like Facebook so much. It’s very simple.

Facebook keeps me connected to folks I care deeply about. And more specifically: folks I care deeply about who aren’t nearby.

That’s it. That’s the core value Facebook provides me. It’s one of my very few “emotive” online experiences. And it provides that experience daily and tangibly.

My newsfeed is almost all signal. This is, in part, because I am ruthless. If you are overtly negative (which is different than having opinions differing from my own), you get hidden. If I don’t find value in your postings, you get hidden. If you’re a high school friend I friended just to be nice, I hide.

I hide unhesitatingly.

I hide remorselessly.

Hiding is your super power. Hiding is one of those few pure joys of the internet through which — amidst the near endless entropy of online content — you can take a stand, push back in a way that meaningfully affects the data you see.

(Hiding from newsfeed, it should be noted, is different from unfriending — they’ll never know.)

So, my feed is signal. Lots of signal. Lots of friends becoming parents. Getting engaged. Couples falling in love. Babies. Oh, god, the babies. (But I do like them so. If you don’t like babies — hide!) Friends and acquaintances off on adventures. Beautiful mountain photos taken during weekend trail runs. Family outings. I keep track of the orphanage a good friend of mine runs in Nepal. I am able to see what my quirky Japanese “parents” are up to. I get updates on the dog back home on the east coast of the US. She is still cute, I can report.

Yes, my Facebook feed is like a Facebook commercial.

And, no. No other internet product, service, or platform provides anything near this experience.

Perhaps most importantly, these folks I love get to keep tabs on me.

There is a qualitative difference in meeting up with someone after six months to whom you’re connected on Facebook (and actively watch) verses meeting up with someone to whom you’re not connected. Call it creepy or what you will. But there’s a lessening of perceived distance from that connection. Those six months don’t feel quite as long. And you have a shared déjà vu of general knowledge of what’s happened between you both. Artificial? I don’t think so. It’s part and parcel of the promise that social media brings to the table but rarely fulfills.

The more I use Facebook, the better it gets. And I find the quality of experience increases as I bring friends and family dear to my heart onto it. This is mostly because Facebook allows you to quietly prune as you go along.

So if you find your Facebook newsfeed full of inanity, start hiding. It’s easy. If you’re friends with a loudmouth, shut ‘em up. Simple. This isn’t magic. Facebook made it easy to hide for a reason — they know they won’t always get it right. One person can only read so many status updates in a single day. Make ‘em good.

Facebook algorithms are far from perfect — but they’re spectacular creatures when you consider the amount of raw data flowing through the system everyday. It takes a little effort to help them along, but if you ruthlessly prune, the signal-to-noise ratio shifts in your favor very quickly.

I love Facebook. Or, more accurately, I love the experiences it provides me.

Complaining about its doom and demise won’t make it — or the thing that follows it — better. The reality is we need algorithms to do a majority of heavy data lifting. But we also need to augment those algorithms with a little hand curation.

There’s no complicated trick to making Facebook better: Just hide the noise.


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