Anthony De Rosa Wed, 06 Mar 2013 16:31:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Separating truth from fiction about Facebook Tue, 05 Mar 2013 19:45:30 +0000 There’s a lot of inaccurate information out there about the way Facebook is promoting posts from people who pay for it. Some of this misinformation comes from writers using their experiences as an example of how things happen to everyone on Facebook, not realizing they’re different than many other people on the service or other people who use the “follow” option (formerly known as “subscribe.”) There’s also an unfortunate tendency to not check facts with Facebook. 

We should not take Facebook at its word but we should at least give it a chance to explain how it sets the rules. We can judge for ourselves how honest they’re being. It’s far worse to assume. This isn’t an entirely new thing for Facebook, Sponsored Stories were rolled out back in January of 2011. This resurfaced because of an article by Nick Bilton at the New York Times who suddenly seemed to notice his Facebook posts were not seeing the same number of comments, likes and shares as they once did. (Update 3/6: Nick does cite Facebook’s statement that although “people who have more than 10,000 subscribers is up 34 percent from a year ago” they also admitted to him “there has been a 2 percent drop in interaction on the news feed.”)

Misconception #1: Sponsored/Promoted Content is replacing organic content on Facebook I spoke to Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalism program manager. Here’s what he told me:

“One important thing to understand is that when someone promotes a post in feed and pays to promote it, the stuff that’s getting distribution organically still gets distribution, it doesn’t get replaced from feed. It may get a lower placement, but it doesn’t get replaced. And the placement of the sponsored post or promoted post is also based on the quality of that post (so promoted content still has a quality algorithm attached to it.) If the promoted post isn’t that good, it gets lower placement, but it will get more distribution either way because it’s being paid for, but it’s still takes quality into account.

The claim that I’ve seen explains it as if these paid posts replace organic posts, which isn’t the case. The News Feed algorithm is separate from the advertising algorithm in that we don’t replace the most engaging posts in News Feed with sponsored ones.”

Misconception #2: Quality of Sponsored/Promoted content doesn’t have an bearing on how it is displayed Vadim was quick to point out that even though you’re paying to have your content get better placement, it will still be judged by quality factors similarly to how organic is judged by.

“The other thing is that you have to keep in mind [how the] feed works overall. On average, a Facebook user is eligible to see more than 2,000 pieces of content per day. That’s a lot of content. We’ve tried showing that content in chronological order, and have tested that every time we have, the overall engagement would decrease dramatically, and users would actually see less content because they didn’t find the content they were seeing as interesting and were missing the important stuff that maybe was posted hours ago, so we take each of the 2,000 pieces of content and rank it based on the probability that you’re going to interact with it. On top of this, sponsored content is added in and may bump organic content down, but we’ve minimized the decrease in engagement and make sure to not show too much of this if the user reacts to it negatively. Overall, the feed ranking looks at each piece of content and orders it based on the probability you’re going to interact with that piece of content. This includes things like:

  • Types of content you interact with. (Photos, status updates, links) If you interact with certain post types, you’ll see more of those post types.
  • People/Pages you interact with more often than others (your closeness to those people), so if you interact with someone more often you will see more content from them. This interaction can be anything from going to their timeline/page, interacting with their content, messaging, etc.
  • Other people’s interactions with the piece of content. If a post is getting a lot of engagement based on how many people have seen it in the feed, it will be seen by more people. If your friends interacted with it, this is a stronger signal.
  • Negative feedback: If people have marked it for spam or hidden it, it will be shown to fewer people. This has a bigger weight than other interaction points.”

Misconception #3: Facebook refers to how they judge post quality as “EdgeRank” Facebook certainly has an algorithm for judging post quality, as described above, but nobody at Facebook actually calls anything “EdgeRank,” Vadim told me. It appears to be a term that caught on outside of Facebook.

Taking all of this into account, it’s hard to see how Nick’s drop in engagement would be true for other users, whether they’re “normal” Facebook members or journalists using the “follow” option. There’s a few things that make Nick an edge case, someone who uses and experiences Facebook slightly differently than the broader membership. He was one of the privileged few who were “recommended” members to follow, which allowed him to gain a lot of followers early on. Most members have to scratch and claw to get noticed, a recommended user list gives you an opportunity to catapult your following in a less organic fashion. Just like on Twitter, it creates an inauthentic illusion of “influence,” and as much as I loathe that word and the next one I am going to use, “engagement,” the quality of that “engagement” goes down as your artificial following grows.

I also noticed that Nick tends to post a lot of links, instead of photo posts, which tend to get a lot more “likes” “shares” and comments. If they’re not getting that kind of (ugh) “engagement,” then they’re in turn showing up lower organically in your follower’s newsfeed. This is a feature, not a bug.

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Most people don’t care about their digital privacy Mon, 17 Dec 2012 20:28:34 +0000 Most of us simply don’t care about our digital privacy. Sure, you see people citing their displeasure every time Facebook changes their terms of service, but with more than a billion users, few actually leave. Today, Instagram took a chance on its own privacy policy, betting that people will treat its service the same way. Instagram now will feature advertising on its mobile application that uses your name, likeness and content, tracks your location and shares the data with Facebook.

The geek chorus is again warming up its pipes. However, I doubt that many will bother to stop taking fauxstalgically filtered photos of every waking moment.

Here are the key additions from Instagram:

Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

Personally, it doesn’t bother me because I know and accept the tradeoff. I understand, begrudgingly, that I have to be vigilant about checking my account settings on Facebook, for example. Every time Facebook makes a change to its terms, I must review them to make sure it hasn’t added some default sharing function that I need to switch off. I accept this in exchange for using the service for free. I realize if I don’t like the rules it has set, I can leave anytime I want to.

When it comes to services such as Facebook, most users aren’t even aware that they have to check , and as Facebook changes its policies, people give up more of their control over their personal information than they realize.

Though some argue, leaving is not as easy — that having a Facebook account is somehow necessary to be a productive member of society.






Would it be any better if these services charged to use them, rather than use our data in return? The whole construct would probably collapse. Without the ability of the services to build a business around the content we’re all feeding into the system, there’s nothing left to offer.

It seems plausible that perhaps they could offer additional services to some users willing to pay in exchange for keeping more of their content out of the hands of marketers. I’d be willing to pay for an ad-less Instagram. I just don’t know if the economics of that deal makes sense for Instagram the company, I suspect they’ll make more money by continuing to hit up advertisers again and again rather than sell me their app on a one-time basis. They could potentially up-sell add-ons later: better filters, the ability to buy physical prints, posters, calendars, etc.

Digital literacy, part of which is understanding what you give up in exchange for free Internet services, is something most of the public simply isn’t motivated to learn. It’s just as true that those who should know better will give up their privacy in exchange for the shiny new app. Add it up, and there’s no reason for Facebook or anyone else to change how they do business because they’ve learned they can get away with it.

The alternative is decentralized social networks that act as a public utility rather than a business. That’s what Diaspora tried to do and ultimately failed.

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You don’t own your hashtag Wed, 28 Nov 2012 22:37:04 +0000 Today the Obama administration unveiled a hashtag “#My2k” to push their “fiscal cliff” message that if middle-class tax cuts aren’t extended, middle-income families will lose $2,000 of income a year. Soon after, conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation purchased the following sponsored tweet that appears at the very top of any search for #My2K:

Below the sponsored tweet are people of all political affiliations and sides of the issue tossing in their two cents. Here’s a sample:

Some positive:

Some, not so much:

You can see more tweets referencing the #My2k hashtag here, where you’re bound to find many more opinions. The point is that by promoting a hashtag, you’re not creating a well controlled campaign for your message. You’re simply creating a higher profile platform to have a discussion about it, which I actually think is fantastic. The problem though is the discussion devolves into short 140 character quips which are high on snark and low on substance. Is it a jumping off point to more substantial conversations? Maybe. I did notice people interacting amongst each other from different sides of the debate, sparked by the hashtag.

This is one of those situations where Facebook would tend to be a better forum, where the length of posts are less restricted and people are forced to put their name behind their words instead of hiding behind the anonymity of Twitter. A service like Branch might be even better, where people are invited to participate in the discussion.

The other question is if the sponsored tweet by The Heritage Foundation is a smart buy? Jim Prosser at Twitter told me “we don’t share search numbers, but looks like the hashtag is at above 41,000 mentions for the day, which of course doesn’t include rises in discussions around the fiscal cliff or taxes.”

As far as where the promoted tweet appears, they appear at the top of search results. Prosser specified how these tweets are purchased and how their appearance occurs: “The Promoted Tweet that appears there is determined by a real-time auction where advertisers’ bids and the engagement level of their Tweets are used to determine a winnner (similar to AdWords, if you’re looking for an analogy — except in this case, there’s only one ad slot).”

It’s interesting that the White House may have indirectly helped to promote The Heritage Foundation by promoting the hashtag they’ve paid to sponsor.

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Where social media fails Fri, 19 Oct 2012 18:37:50 +0000 I’ve been thinking a lot about my use of social media and how helpful it is in informing the people who consume it. This election season has particularly made me think more critically about how sometimes the short, context-less text updates can lead to a poorly informed public. I’m certainly not the first person to realize this, as Craig Kanalley recently wrote in detail. People increasingly latch on to the latest minutiae of the campaign, the Big Bird, the binders, the memes, which have little relevance to the actual issues that matter: employment, foreign policy, the expanding income gap, so on and so forth. Here’s what we plan to do to improve the signal to noise ratio.

  • Focus my updates on more short, rapid-fire networks like Twitter on doing fact checks, linking to substantive articles about issues related to how the candidates will govern: economy, taxes, social issues, etc.
  • Find flaws in the arguments of both candidates with detailed pieces that point out where they have either been too opaque or flat out lied.
  • Engage with people all over the political spectrum to start a dialogue and understand what they care about. It is “social media” after all and I see many people who are supposed “social media editors” who never engage their readers.
  • Spend more time live blogging, which allows for longer posts and rich media

The Elections 2012 live blog format gives us the room to provide context that you may not be getting from Twitter and Facebook. I’ve put together a number of lists that might also be helpful, which I try to update as much as possible:

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Rupert Murdoch’s best tweets of all time Thu, 28 Jun 2012 12:49:51 +0000