Buying Access to Your Newsfeed

Face

Whoa.

We may have finally hit the breaking point for ridiculous, money-making Facebook ideas.  According to this Mashable post, Facebook users will soon be able to pay to have their posts seen by more people.  While our friends who are ego-maniacal and/or insecure, with large amounts of disposable income rejoice, the average Facebook user is likely to start feeling alienated. Let me explain…

Recently, Facebook made a similar change for business pages.  ”Hey businesses,”  they said, “would you like a larger chunk of your audience to see your your posts?  Pay us money to promote them and you’ll reach more people!”  Since Facebook has never charged businesses to use their service, and many had amassed a huge audience there, this didn’t seem completely ridiculous. That is until it became more difficult to reach that audience you had built if you were not paying to promote your posts.

For sometime, Facebook has touted their EdgeRank algorithm. It’s what they use to determine what stories show up in your news feed. One thing became clear once the promoted posts started – those who weren’t paying to promote posts were getting dinged by the algorithm. I saw firsthand these effects on pages I managed. Post reach declined significantly over a matter of two weeks, and then began to increase again with a few promoted post purchases. Smoking gun? No. Compelling anecdotal evidence? Indeed.

While disappointing to businesses who have spent a lot of time building their Facebook audience, Facebook is within their rights to do this. The users belong to them, the platform belongs to them, so they can make it work however they see fit. Users are not going to flee from Facebook because of a change in the business posts they see.

But, changing their interpersonal interactions is likely a different story. This is where I see problems for Facebook in these user-promoted posts. As I stated before, the people who are on Facebook solely as a means of talking about themselves will be thrilled to be able to buy an audience. But what about the rest of us?

EdgeRank is supposed to understand our likes and dislikes, helping us see the info we want, while not showing  us what we don’t. So the bottom line is this, when Edge Rank started, people complained because it changed their experience from the wide-open, see- everything news feed, to a more selective, better targeted one. What Facebook is now telling us is that they are willing to give us an inferior product for money. Since people we know are willing to pay, they are going to show us things that actually make our experience worse. When it was coming from businesses, it was easy to think of it as the “commercials” of a free service. But when you start to question every post that pops up in your news feed, it’s suddenly a usability issue.

Having seen how the Facebook pay-to-play system works for business, I have a couple questions as a user.  The first thing I want to know is about users I have hidden – those “friends” I have to keep for whatever reason, but have muted on Facebook – can they buy their way back into my newsfeed?  Related, will posts that are not paid for from friends back home be demoted and not appear as a result? If so, you just made my Facebook experience much lousier.

Again, it’s a business decision that Facebook is allowed to make. I’m  not suggesting they owe anybody anything, nor that they should not try to maximize the money can make from the platform. What I  question is the wisdom behind this decision. When EdgeRank started, they told us it was to make our experience better. What are we then supposed to assume when the new for-proofit program supersedes those improvements?

I think I hear my Google+ account calling.