Yesterday, out of sheer frustration, I posted this on my Facebook status:
Dear Facebook, please stop trying to tell me which stories are important to me. You will never know, because there is no way to create an accurate algorithm for it and there never will be. So take your “highlighted stories” and put them in your fail file. That is all.
This created a surprising amount of interaction with my FB friends. I figured that I wasn’t alone in my distaste for Facebook’s recently implemented “highlighted stories” function, which is an updated (?) version of the old “top stories” function. But I was taken aback by the amount of “dittos” I got.
I know, I know. Facebook is free, and still quite useful, so why complain about it? For one thing, it’s just my nature to want things to work well, and to comment on what i see. Especially when they seem misguided, like this one. It’s great that algorithms can steer music fans to new artists that display similarities to their favorites, or match web searches with relevant websites. Not that either of those things is anywhere close to perfect.
It’s another thing altogether to create an algorithm that tries to anticipate which Facebook Friends I want to interact with the most, even if it’s based on what I’ve done previously. A good example as to why this may not work–I might comment on someone’s post even if I don’t know them well, because that particular post was intriguing. That doesn’t mean that person’s status updates should be highlighted forevermore. Another one–I might comment on a post because another friend commented on it, and I may be responding more to the commenter than the original post. I don’t see how the algorithm can detect the difference, and based on what shows up in my highlighted stream, it certainly does not appear to be a good predictor of anything. I could even live with this more easily if users could set their preferences to hide the highlighted stories stream on an ongoing basis. You can flip it to “recent stories” temporarily but it always seems to change back the next day.
Not to belabor this whole point. Facebook does what they do, and we can either like it, make peace with it, or leave. However, it brings up a larger point. Is this the kind of attitude we take with our customers, without realizing it? Do you put your prospects in a “love it or leave it” quandary? Do we dictate the terms of our relationships without considering whether they benefit our customers?
In writing the title of this post, I felt like Bart Simpson, getting ready to write this on the blackboard over and over, until it fully sinks in.
I’ll be pondering this over the holidays. But we’ll do more than ponder. We’ll try to get our customers to tell us how we can avoid this mistake. As should we all.