Monday, October 18, 2010

What's Facebook really all about?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 12:32 PM

Facebook creates a great deal of cognitive dissonance for me. I love staying in touch with my friends and family — Facebook definitely makes that easy. I love giving shout outs to people, organizations, products, bands, artists, (you name it) that I adore for one reason or another. I also love that it allows me to interact with people and get to know them a little better. And, as a writer, it's always great to have one more way I can share my work with others.

At the same time, I'm a fan of disconnecting. That's why there are days when checking in with Facebook feels like a job. I mean, another e-mail account? Gee, thanks. Saying no, repeatedly, when people ask, "Didn't you see my post on Facebook?" And, let's be real, spending time on Facebook, and other social media sites, takes time away from family and friends as much as it connects us with them. It also sucks away time we could be spending on our goals, careers or hobbies.

I go back and forth about whether or not I should pull the plug on it, but ultimately peer and societal pressure wins. I mean, everyone's doing it, or at least it seems like they are. Facebook is a great way to spark conversations and learn new things about people we thought we already knew.

So, I get to this point where I'm kinda OK with Facebook ... or, at least I'm more at peace with broadcasting TMI. Then, I read articles like this from The Daily Beast (see the snippet below) that make me feel like we're evolving toward a Gattaca world where our every move on the Internet determines our overall experience:

Facebook, much like Google with its search algorithms, consistently refuses to go into details about how it picks and pans content (save a few glancing details this year about the enigmatic engine that powers it, EdgeRank. So, with the mystery of that 10th-grade friend in mind, The Daily Beast set out to crack the code of Facebook's personalized news feed. Why do some friends seem to pop up constantly, while others are seldom seen? How much do the clicks of other friends in your network affect what you're shown? Does Facebook reward some activities with undue exposure? And can you "stalk" your way into a friend's news feed by obsessively viewing their page and photos?

To get the answers, we devised an experiment, creating our own virtual test lab within the confines of Facebook and tracking thousands of news-feed items over a period of several weeks. The focal point of our experiment: Phil Simonetti, a 60-year-old Facebook newcomer who allowed us to dictate and monitor his every move.

Like a half-billion people before him, Simonetti joined Facebook and began typing in his status updates. But in this case, Simonetti's only friends were a hand-picked roster of more than two dozen volunteers who agreed to sift through their news feeds for the duration of our experiment, dutifully recording any Phil sightings.

As our volunteers checked in with their reports, some remarkable findings began to emerge:

Read the rest of this article, by Thomas E. Weber, here.

Gattaca's movie trailer:

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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