Over the past few months I, as a regular user of the social network Facebook, have encountered a growing problem in the way they do things. When I first signed up, I did so because I wanted to keep in touch with friends and family using an easy and simple platform they had already signed up to. Of course, it's not as close a means of communication as, say, a telephone call, but when you're using it to keep in touch with distant relatives or friends it was, and still is (though to a lesser degree) a great tool to do just that. Over the time I've used it, it's also become a platform of discovery and education where you can encounter people from all over the world with similar interests, or engage with pages and groups that allow you to learn something new.
I will be one of the first to admit that I became, and still am, though to a lesser extent the reasons of which will become clear, a Facebook addict. It was one of the tools I checked on a daily basis and focused a lot of time on. Only a few months ago my news feed was filled with interesting and unique content. Stuff that would make me laugh or think that was presented from the pages I had chosen to 'Like', yet I very rarely see these posts come up in my feed anymore because Facebook's constantly 'evolving' news feed algorithm has meant that it makes it harder and harder for pages to have their posts reach the fans who at one point took a positive action to 'like' the page, saying they want to see the content.
Facebook recently admitted that what they call 'organic' reach for pages will keep on a steady decline in the future. This means that, it's unlikely that the pages you 'liked' at one point will have their content show up in your news feed, and the only way you can truly guarantee you will always see their content is if you sign up to receive notifications from the page every time it posts, or if you engage with every single post that page puts up, then Facebook's algorithm will deliver more of that content to you (until they change things again). While Facebook won't admit it as bluntly as marketers and page owners will state it, they are doing this for one reason and one reason only, to get page owners to pay for you to see the content from a page you've already expressed an interest in by liking them.
Some who pay attention to tech news may remember that in 2012 Facebook introduced a new feature to allow personal users to pay to promote their own Facebook posts to be seen by more of THEIR OWN FRIENDS. This means that when you add someone as a friend, there is no guarantee you or they will see each other's posts, despite the fact that you sent them a friend request and obviously want to do just that. This is something which I, and you too, should have a BIG problem with.
In early 2012, Facebook went public and was initially valued at $100bn. At this point, and with such a high valuation, Facebook's concern moved from being the best social network, to maximising profits for its shareholders. Now nobody would deny a company the right to drive forward in maximising its profits and keeping its shareholders happy, but when shifting that focus they have neglected to understand what made Facebook so special in the first place. A lot of it was driven by the interactions of its users with one another and the various groups and pages that exist on the platform. A core element of that is the News Feed, which is the central aspect around which the rest of the social network is formed. Think of it as the Twitter feed, but you have someone else deciding what they think you want to see.
Facebook's own statement on their news feed feature says:
The goal of News Feed is to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don't miss the stories that are important to them.
But wait, why does that mean you have to remove some content entirely from a person's feed? I don't think anybody would object to the idea of ranking certain posts based on engagement with the maker of certain posts, but why blank some content out altogether? Because they want you to pay. Facebook measures and makes decisions for its algorithm based on your engagement with the posts by a particular person or page. So say, for example, I don't click on, comment, like or share every status by my Aunt Mary, but that my own personal view is that I do actually like seeing her content. Because I have not actively engaged, Aunt Mary will eventually disappear from my news feed unless I start clicking on all her posts or I set it so I receive notifications every time she posts something. But why should I, or you, have to even do that? Is our association and friendship not enough?
Since going public (and I suspect a little before then) Facebook now sees every single user as a potential marketer, but not everyone uses Facebook to market something, nor can every page we enjoy afford to pay for users to see their posts, even when they have probably already paid once to ensure they have a large fan base in the first place. Outside of the literal brands like Ford, Sony, Microsoft etc. there are non-profits, activist pages, educational pages, humour pages etc which simply don't have the $millions to be able to pay to reach their Facebook audience that they may have spent months or years building up in the first place.
The changes Facebook have made aren't to make your user experience better, it's to maximise profits, but you're no longer a user on a social network, you're a marketer, an advertiser, and they want you to pay because they simply haven't found any other way to monetise the HUGE number of users without sacrificing what got them to this position in the first place. Those who disagree will of course, point out the 'lists' feature on Facebook, or the 'Page Feed' and yet, while these certainly offer you an opportunity to customise what you will see to an extent, even they do not allow you the ability to see all the posts and content from the things you place in that list or from the pages you have liked when viewing the 'Page Feed'.
While the short term profits certainly look good for Facebook, in the longterm, these changes, if they persist in becoming more and more restrictive of what we see, then Facebook will only serve to push people away as it becomes less of a social network, and more of a drag.
Have a watch of a video which makes the same points I did in under 7 minutes.