Understanding how Facebook determines what goes in News Feeds

Facebook users often wonder why so much of the content they post never appears in the News Feed of their friends, and why they see only a small fraction of what their friends post.

Plea to Facebook from millions of exasperated users

The answer is simple: Facebook controls what appears in News Feeds using an algorithm called EdgeRank, which is so poorly conceived that it appears to have been designed by someone who is either bereft of common sense or a sadist who derives pleasure from giving Facebook users a needlessly hard time.

Facebook did not want its users to be inundated with information posted by friends, so they filter most of it out. That would be tolerable if they did a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff, but by hiring programmers who seemingly flunked Logic 101, logically filtering content is too much to ask from them.

The most obvious solution would be to have a “Subscribe” button so YOU could choose to receive all content from your most interesting and brilliant friends, or all of what they post on specific topics. However, Facebook doesn't have this basic feature. The closest they come to it isn't easy to find or use, but I'll make it as painless as possible. From your News Feed page, look at the top for Top News • Most Recent. If you aren't already on Most Recent, it will appear as a blue hyperlink, as shown below:

Facebook Top News Most Recent

Click Most Recent and scroll to the bottom of the page. Click Edit Options near the bottom to open the News Feed Settings.


To see more of what a friend posts—Facebook won't let you see it all, type his or her name in the Show More box.

250 is currently the default maximum number of friends shown in Live Feed. I increased it by a factor of ten (to 2500) and didn't see much additional content in my feed although my thousands of friends posted content that could have been included. Thus, Facebook seems hell-bent on filtering content even when you tell it to back off.

Now do you see why Facebook programmers need more coffee?

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What Facebook programmers need more of

Understanding EdgeRank

Considering how determined Facebook is to make life difficult for you, to maximize control of what appears in your News Feed and the feeds to your friends, you must understand the criteria EdgeRank uses to filter content. According to various experts, EdgeRank heightens the probability of including an item in a News Feed if the person posting it and the ones receiving it have had more Facebook interactions, such as:

  • Sending messages.
  • Frequently checking their profile.
  • “Liking” and especially commenting on what they've written.

However, Facebook refuses to disclose all criteria that influence whether an item appears in News Feeds. Their refusal to divulge their complete algorithm is not because it is so valuable (any competitor who copied EdgeRank would have rocks in his head!), but likely because they don't want their users to realize how pathetic their algorithm really is.

Might they be tight-lipped because they don't want users gaming the system? I don't think so. Facebook freely discloses some EdgeRank criteria that any semi-competent programmer could easily use to spike his ranking. Furthermore, even if you do everything possible to maximize your connection to a friend (or that friend to you), EdgeRank will still filter a substantial portion of News Feed content. I've written many private messages to some Facebook friends, clicked “like” and commented umpteen times on things they've written, repeatedly checked their profiles, and they've done the same for me, yet I still don't see most of what they post, nor do they see most of what I post.

Unless Facebook is vying to become a synonym for incompetent, or unless they are trying to replicate the success of MySpace in driving users away once something better comes along, Facebook should hire someone with a brain to overhaul EdgeRank.

Katie King was so exasperated by EdgeRank that she founded a group, FB: get rid of the news feed algorithm!

Tom Weber conducted a one-month experiment to discover the secrets of the Facebook algorithm and found that:

  • It is biased against new users.
  • It favors links over status updates.
  • It favors photos and videos over links.
  • It is difficult to get the attention of popular people.
  • You will see more items in your feed by selecting the Most Recent feed instead of the Top News feed, but even the Most Recent feed is heavily filtered.
  • Having friends click your links and view your photos will increase your popularity and hence probability of not having your content axed by EdgeRank.
If this model were on Facebook, she would be very popular even if she posted only trivial comments.

Considering how men are so enamored by beauty, this explains why hot young women are so popular on Facebook and why even trivial content from them is likely to appear in considerably more News Feeds than fascinating and insightful content from others. For example, some gorgeous women have posted two-word earth-shattering status updates such as “I'm tired” or “I'm bored” and received several dozen comments in less than 30 minutes. (Note: The adjacent model is not one of the boring beauties on Facebook.)

Some of my sheds:

my sheds
See more >

Facebook thinks that most written content is automatically less valuable than photos or videos. Why should this be so? I posted pictures of some sheds I built and was surprised to see them receive more enduring attention than heavily researched articles I wrote that came to the attention of national figures who said my content was “great.” If a big shot media star says it is good and many Facebook friends “like” it and comment on it, even that isn't enough to keep it alive. Bottom line: In Facebook, words die quickly while videos and photos live on.

For something you post to appear in the News Feeds of some of your friends and stay there for a reasonable time, and for it to have any chance of appearing in even more News Feeds, your content must quickly generate interest as evidenced by people frequently clicking on it. No clicks, or just a few clicks, and it is history.

Even if you do everything possible, Facebook will still filter so much content that you will welcome the day when a better alternative comes along—and it will, leaving the Facebook brass scratching their empty heads in befuddlement as much as the MySpace leaders must wonder why their has-been site is no longer king of the social networking hill.

I've given you some secrets for understanding EdgeRank and circumventing some of its maddening limitations. If you can put 2 and 2 together, you will realize that I've also hinted at steps you could take to make EdgeRank think more of you and hence more likely to broadcast your content instead of suppressing it. I will implement one or more of these steps in my profile in the near future. If you can figure out what I'm doing, you're free to use my techniques to make Facebook think that you are wheat, not chaff.

Related topic: Tired of threatening messages from Facebook when sending friend requests?

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Related topics:

Tired of threatening messages from Facebook when sending friend requests?

Overcoming the 420-character limit for Facebook status updates

The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

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