The Facebook Algorithm Mom Problem

How I temporarily cut my mom out of my social media life to reach a larger audience.

POSSE

For quite a while now, I’ve been publishing most of my content to my personal website first and syndicating copies of it to social media silos like Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook. Within the Indieweb community this process is known as POSSE an acronym for Post on your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.

The Facebook Algorithm

Anecdotally most in social media have long known that doing this type of workflow causes your content to be treated like a second class citizen, particularly on Facebook which greatly prefers that users post to it manually or using one of its own apps rather than via API. [1][2][3][4] This means that the Facebook algorithm that decides how big an audience a piece of content receives, dings posts which aren’t posted manually within their system. Simply put, if you don’t post it manually within Facebook, not as many people are going to see it.

Generally I don’t care too much about this posting “tax” and happily use a plugin called Social Media Network Auto Poster (aka SNAP) to syndicate my content from my WordPress site to up to half a dozen social silos.

What I have been noticing over the past six or more months is an even more insidious tax being paid for posting to Facebook. I call it “The Facebook Algorithm Mom Problem”.

Here’s what’s happening

I write my content on my own personal site. I automatically syndicate it to Facebook. My mom, who seems to be on Facebook 24/7, immediately clicks “like” on the post. The Facebook algorithm immediately thinks that because my mom liked it, it must be a family related piece of content–even if it’s obviously about theoretical math, a subject in which my mom has no interest or knowledge. (My mom has about 180 friends on Facebook; 45 of them overlap with mine and the vast majority of those are close family members).

The algorithm narrows the presentation of the content down to very close family. Then my mom’s sister sees it and clicks “like” moments later. Now Facebook’s algorithm has created a self-fulfilling prophesy and further narrows the audience of my post. As a result, my post gets no further exposure on Facebook other than perhaps five people–the circle of family that overlaps in all three of our social graphs. Naturally, none of these people love me enough to click “like” on random technical things I think are cool. I certainly couldn’t blame them for not liking these arcane topics, but shame on Facebook for torturing them for the exposure when I was originally targeting maybe 10 other colleagues to begin with.

This would all be okay if the actual content was what Facebook was predicting it was, but 99% of the time, it’s not the case. In general I tend to post about math, science, and other random technical subjects. I rarely post about closely personal things which are of great interest to my close family members. These kinds of things are ones which I would relay to them via phone or in person and not post about publicly.

Posts only a mother could love

I can post about arcane areas like Lie algebras or statistical thermodynamics, and my mom, because she’s my mom, will like all of it–whether or not she understands what I’m talking about or not. And isn’t this what moms do?! What they’re supposed to do? Of course it is!

mom-autolike (n.)–When a mother automatically clicks “like” on a piece of content posted to social media by one of their children, not because it has any inherent value, but simply because the content came from their child.

She’s my mom, she’s supposed to love me unconditionally this way!

The problem is: Facebook, despite the fact that they know she’s my mom, doesn’t take this fact into account in their algorithm.

What does this mean? It means either I quit posting to Facebook, or I game the system to prevent these mom-autolikes.

Preventing mom-autolikes

I’ve been experimenting. But how?

Facebook allows users to specifically target their audience in a highly granular fashion from the entire public to one’s circle of “friends” all the way down to even one or two specific people. Even better, they’ll let you target pre-defined circles of friends and even exclude specific people. So this is typically what I’ve been doing to end-around my Facebook Algorithm Mom problem. I have my site up set to post to either “Friends except mom” or “Public except mom”. (Sometimes I exclude my aunt just for good measure.) This means that my mom now can’t see my posts when I publish them!

Facebook will let you carefully and almost surgically define who can see your posts.

What a horrible son

Don’t jump the gun too quickly there Bubbe! I come back at the end of the day after the algorithm has run its course and my post has foreseeably reached all of the audience it’s likely to get. At that point, I change the audience of the post to completely “Public”.

You’ll never guess what happens next…

Yup. My mom “likes” it!

I love you mom. Thanks for all your unconditional love and support!!

Even better, I’m happy to report that generally the intended audience which I wanted to see the post actually sees it. Mom just gets to see it a bit later.

Dear Facebook Engineering

Could you fix this algorithm problem please? I’m sure I’m not the only son or daughter to suffer from it.

Have you noticed this problem yourself? I’d love to hear from others who’ve seen a similar effect and love their mothers (or other close loved ones) enough to not cut them out of their Facebook lives.

References

[1]
R. Tippens, “Drop the Autobot: Manual Posting to Facebook Outperforms Automated,” ReadWrite, 01-Aug-2011. [Online]. Available: https://readwrite.com/2011/08/01/manually_posting_to_facebook_significantly_outperf/. [Accessed: 11-Jul-2017]
[2]
“How to Increase Your Traffic from Facebook by 650% in 5 Seconds,” WPMUDEV, 02-Aug-2011. [Online]. Available: https://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/how-to-increase-your-traffic-from-facebook-by-650-in-5-seconds/. [Accessed: 11-Jul-2017]
[3]
J. D. Lasica, “Demystifying how Facebook’s news feeds work,” SocialMedia.biz, 11-Feb-2011. [Online]. Available: http://socialmedia.biz/2011/02/07/how-facebook-news-feeds-work/. [Accessed: 11-Jul-2017]
[4]
D. Hay, “Will auto-posting stunt the reach of your Facebook posts?,” SocialMedia.biz, 26-Jul-2011. [Online]. Available: http://socialmedia.biz/2011/07/26/will-auto-posting-stunt-the-reach-of-your-facebook-posts/. [Accessed: 11-Jul-2017]
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Dodging the Memory Hole 2017 Conference at the Internet Archive November 15-16, 2017

Interested in Attending https://www.rjionline.org/events/dodging-the-memory-hole-2017
Please join us at Dodging the Memory Hole 2017: Saving Online News on Nov. 15-16 at the Internet Archive headquarters in San Francisco. Speakers, panelists and attendees will explore solutions to the most urgent threat to cultural memory today — the loss of online news content. The forum will focus on progress made in and successful models of long-term preservation of born-digital news content. Journalistic content published on websites and through social media channels is ephemeral and easily lost in a tsunami of digital content. Join professional journalists, librarians, archivists, technologists and entrepreneurs in addressing the urgent need to save the first rough draft of history in digital form. The two-day forum — funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant awarded to the Journalism Digital News Archive, UCLA Library and the Educopia Institute — will feature thought leaders, stakeholders and digital preservation practitioners who are passionate about preserving born-digital news. Sessions will include speakers, multi-member panels, lightning round speakers and poster presenters examining existing initiatives and novel practices for protecting and preserving online journalism.

I attended this conference at UCLA in Fall 2016; it was fantastic! I highly recommend it to journalists, coders, Indieweb enthusiasts, publishers, and others interested in the related topics covered.

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👓 Libraries and publishers | Krissedoff

Libraries and publishers by Derek Krissoff (krissedoff)
A recent Chronicle piece on university libraries and what it describes as their pivot away from books has me thinking (with help from some friends on twitter) about the increase in library-reporting university presses. It’s a sensitive topic that doesn’t always, I think, receive a lot of attention or get treated with sufficient nuance.
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👓 Carrie Fisher’s final assets revealed, Billie Lourd named beneficiary of the estate | Entertainment Weekly

Carrie Fisher's final assets revealed, Billie Lourd named beneficiary of the estate by Mike Miller (Entertainment Weekly)
The Star Wars actress’s assets, outlined in court documents obtained by PEOPLE, include several bank accounts, a 2016 Tesla S, full ownership of several LLCs, and a life insurance policy. Personal and household belongings like jewelry, artwork, and collectibles will also go to Lourd, Fisher’s only child from her relationship with talent executive Bryan Lourd.
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👓 Media Companies Are Getting Sick of Facebook | Bloomberg

Media Companies Are Getting Sick of Facebook by Sarah Frier and Gerry Smith (Bloomberg)
News outlets are complaining about Facebook’s terms for TV-quality videos meant to compete with YouTube.
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Reply to Gutenberg: First Impressions | MattCromwell.com

Gutenberg: First Impressions by Matt Cromwell (MattCromwell.com)
Gutenberg is the future of content in WordPress. It will deliver the elegance of Medium but with far more power and flexibility of layouts and content types

I love how this looks and works and it’s certainly about time that WordPress had alternate means of publishing to its platform. (I miss the days when Twitter had thousands of different configurable apps to post to it, though these were far simpler.)

Not only does it remind me a bit of Medium.com’s interface, it is highly reminiscent of Aaron Parecki’s Quill editor which uses the open Micropub spec to publish to the Micropub endpoint on my blog. Though his isn’t as fully featured as the Gutenberg example, he could certainly add to it, but then it could be used to publish to any site that supports the spec.

A sample of the Quill interface for posting to WordPress via Micropub.

The nice part about Micropub (and the fact that there’s already a Micropub plugin for WordPress) is that developers can build multiple competing publishing interfaces to publish to any website out there. (Or developers could even build custom publishing interfaces for their clients.)

In fact, if they wanted to do a highly valuable pivot, Medium.com could add publishing via Micropub to their platform and really become the billionaire’s typewriter that some have suggested it to be.

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👓 WordPress.com Announces New Importer for Medium Posts | WP Tavern

WordPress.com Announces New Importer for Medium Posts by Sarah Gooding (WP Tavern)
Medium started 2017 on uncertain footing, laying off a third of its staff in January after admitting that its ad-based business model was not working.
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🔖 Feed reader revolution: it’s time to embrace open & disrupt social media

Feed reader revolution: it’s time to embrace open & disrupt social media
By supporting Micropub, indie-config, and/or action URLs, current feed readers can make it far easier for people on the open web to not only read content the way they currently do on siloed social media services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. Increased ease-of-use to allow these functionalities with beautiful user interface will help to move users out of walled-gardens where they’re trapped into the larger universe of the free and open internet. Individuals with their own websites can support the acceptance of these posts to save their interactions with what they’ve read, be they comments, likes, bookmarks, or other interactions. They can also close the loop by supporting Webmentions so that their comments can be sent to (and potentially displayed) on others’ websites. All of these pieces combined make for a more open and democratic web.

The article about feed readers that I wrote for the new AltPlatform tech blog is out now. I hope everyone will take a look.

When this publication from Richard MacManus (the founder of ReadWriteWeb.com, one of my old favorite standbys) popped up a few weeks ago with the tagline “A non-profit tech blog about the open web”, I immediately bookmarked it and knew it would be at the top of my subscription list. When I read his founding manifesto for the blog, I was hooked and bumped it to the top of my list and tipped off others:

There’s also some great articles up by Emre Sokullu, Brian Hendrickson, and Richard MacManus on a variety of other great topics. I hope you’ll take a look at what they’re doing and subscribe.

I’m pleased that they’ve taken something I was planning on posting here on my site and are giving it some wider exposure.

If you’re a journalist, blogger, or writer in the space, do feel free to connect with them to pitch ideas.​​

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Feed reader revolution

It's time to embrace open & disrupt social media
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared at AltPlatform.org.

The state-of-the-art in feed readers was frozen in place sometime around 2010, if not before. By that time most of the format wars between RSS and Atom had long since died down and were all generally supported. The only new features to be added were simple functionalities like sharing out links from readers to social services like Facebook and Twitter. For fancier readers they also added the ability to share out to services like Evernote, OneNote, Pocket, Instapaper and other social silos or silo related services.

So the real question facing companies with stand alone traditional feed reader products–like Feedly, Digg Reader, The Old Reader, Inoreader, Reeder, NewsBlur, Netvibes, Tiny Tiny RSS, WordPress reader–and the cadre of others is:

  • What features could/should we add?
  • How can we improve?
  • How can we gain new users?
  • How can we increase our market share?

In short the primary question is:

What should a modern RSS feed reader be capable of doing?

Continue reading “Feed reader revolution”

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I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died. by Dennis Perkins (Vox)

Some interesting analysis of what we’re loosing with the death of video stores. In particular, we’re losing some of the same type of recommendations and serendipity we’re loosing with the rise of e-books and less use of libraries/librarians. In particular, loosing well-curated collections is a big issue as we replace them with streaming services which don’t seem to have the same curatorial business models.

I particularly enjoyed this quote:

A great video store’s library of films is like a little bubble outside the march of technology or economics, preserving the fringes, the forgotten, the noncommercial, or the straight-up weird. Championed by a store’s small army of film geeks, such movies get more traffic than they did in their first life in the theater, or any time since. Not everything that was on VHS made the transition to DVD, and not every movie on DVD is available to stream. The decision to leave a movie behind on the next technological leap is market-driven, which makes video stores the last safety net for things our corporate overlords discard.

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How Hollywood Remembers Steve Bannon | The New Yorker

How Hollywood Remembers Steve Bannon by Connie Bruck (The New Yorker)
He says that, before he became a senior adviser to the President, he was a successful player in the film industry. But what did he actually do?

Continue reading “How Hollywood Remembers Steve Bannon | The New Yorker”

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Acclaimed Director Jonathan Demme Dead at 73 by David Fear, Ryan Reed (Rolling Stone)
'Stop Making Sense' filmmaker succumbs to esophageal cancer

Continue reading “👓 Jonathan Demme, ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘Philadelphia’ Director, Dead at 73 | Rolling Stone”

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