An Information Theory Playlist on Spotify

In honor of tomorrow’s release of Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman’s book A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, I’ve created an Information Theory playlist on Spotify.

Songs about communication, telephones, conversation, satellites, love, auto-tune and even one about a typewriter! They all relate at least tangentially to the topic at hand. To up the ante, everyone should realize that digital music would be impossible without Shannon’s seminal work.

Let me know in the comments or by replying to one of the syndicated copies listed below if there are any great tunes that the list is missing.

Enjoy the list and the book!

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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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The beginnings of a blogroll

Inspired by Richard MacManus’ recent post, I spent a little bit of time rebuilding/refreshing some old blogroll functionality (cum follow list functionality) into my site.

It’s far from finished (particularly from the data perspective), but it’s starting to shape up and look like something. I’m currently publishing an Indieweb blogroll on my front page. (Don’t presume anything if you’re not on it yet, I’ve a long way to go.) I’m still contemplating how to break it up into more manageable/consumable chunks primarily for myself, but also for others like Richard who were looking for ways to subscribe to others in this particular community.

For those who have readers that allow them to either subscribe to OPML files and/or import them, here’s my open OPML file. It’s a full firehose of everything, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to divide it into chunks more easily. I’d recommend subscribing to it if you can as it’s sure to see some reasonable changes in the coming weeks/months.

A snippet of the admin UI of my blogroll functionality. Pictures are always nice!
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I’m apparently the king of the microformat rel=”me”

More important however is the reason why I hold the title!

Today, at the IndieWeb Summit 2017, Ryan Barrett, while giving a presentation on some data research he’s been doing on the larger Indieweb community, called me out for a ridiculous number of rel-me’s on a single page. His example cited me as having 177 of them on a single page! I tracked it down and it was actually an archive page that included the following post How many social media related accounts can one person have on the web?!.

What is a rel=”me”?

Rel=”me” is a microformat tag put on hyperlinks that indicates that the paged linked to is another representation of the person who controls the site/page you’re currently looking at. Thus on my home page the Facebook bug has a link to my facebook account which is another representation of me on the web, thus it has a rel=”me” tag on it.

His data is a bit old as I now maintain a page entitled Social Media Accounts and Links with some (but far from all) of my disparate and diverse social media accounts. That page currently has 190 rel=”me”s on it! While there was one other example that had rel-mes pointing to every other internal page on the site (at 221, if I recall), I’m proud to say, without gaming the system in such a quirky way, that each and every one of the rel=”me” URLs is indeed a full legitimate use of the tag.

I’m proud to be at the far end of the Zipf tail for this. And even more proud to be tagged as such during the week in which Microformats celebrates its 12th birthday. But for those doing research or who need edge cases of rel-me use, I’m also happy to serve as a unique test case. (If I’m not mistaken, I think my Google+ page broke one of Ryan’s web crawlers/tools in the past for a similar use-case a year or two ago).

The Moral of the Story

The take away from this seemingly crazy and obviously laughable example is simply just how fragmented one’s online identity can become by using social silos. Even more interesting for some is the number of sites on that page which either no longer have links or which are crossed out indicating that they no longer resolve. This means those sites and thousands more are now gone from the internet and along with them all of the data that they contained not only for me but thousands or even millions of other users.

This is one of the primary reasons that I’m a member of the Indieweb, have my own domain, and try to own all of my own data.

While it seemed embarrassing for a moment (yes, I could hear the laughter even in the live stream folks!), I’m glad Ryan drew attention to my rel-me edge case in part because it highlights some of the best reasons for being in the Indieweb.

(And by the way Ryan, thanks for a great presentation! I hope everyone watches the full video and checks out the new site/tool!)

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