I have opened Pandora’s Box by thinking about how algorithms shape our world. I am now in the matrix. Everywhere I look, I see algorithms. Algorithms decide what I get to see in the digital world. Given that I spend most of my time online, algorithms’ impact on my life is immense. I cannot stop thinking about how algorithms are manipulating my views this very minute. Now I know what Neo must have felt when he was first confronted with the matrix. Overwhelmed is an understatement! 🙂
I was thinking about Wednesday’s blog and realised that a blog about algorithms has to mention Facebook. I imagine a portal like Facebook with a humongous user base would have numerous algorithms working behind the scenes. So I decided to focus on one algorithm, which impacts all users. I found out that Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank. This algorithm decides what gets displayed in your Facebook News Feed. (I am assuming that you are one of over 800 million members of Facebook.) While I was researching more on this topic, I came across an interesting fact. It seems that only 16% of your friends would get to see your status updates (Bosker, 2012). In my case it is about 50 “friends” and here I was wondering why so few of my over 300 friends have commented on my blog. Chances are they are still not aware of it. At least I hope that is the reason. 🙂
Here is my understanding of EdgeRank. There are 3 dimensions to EdgeRank. They are called; Affinity, Edge Weight and Time Decay. Before I go to explain what these dimensions mean in lay man terms, I have to add that I am looking at the impact of EdgeRank from the perspective of a private person and not that of a company.
Affinity refers to interest a user shows in another user’s updates or profiles. For instance: If I am looking at my husband’s profile many times daily, my Affinity scoring to him would be high. Therefore I would get to see more of his updates in my News Feeds. Sounds great, right? This saves me the trouble of having to visit his page regularly trying to catch him flirting with some blonde and blue eyed vixen. 🙂 On the other hand, if my husband rarely looks at my page or responds to my status updates, I would not appear high on his News Feed. It is possible that I do not appear at all because my scoring is too low and I get filtered out of his feed.
Edge Weight depends on the type of content posted. It seems that links, photos and videos have a higher weighting compared to text only updates. This sounds plausible to me. I probably would not respond to a friend’s status update, “Beautiful rainbow”. But if the friend posted a photo of a rainbow, chances are pretty high that I would click on it. EdgeWeight keeps track on the type of content I respond frequently to and places it higher up in my News Feed. In my case, it would be status updates with photos.
Time Decay is self explanatory. Newer updates score higher on this dimension. Even if a post gets many comments and likes, its score reduces in relation with its age. Therefore I would only get to see recent status updates of my friends.
A combination of the scores of these 3 dimensions would be used to filter the updates of your friends and show you what the algorithm thinks you are interested in seeing. On the one hand, it is great the algorithm does the pre-selection for me. As it is, I spend too much time on Facebook. But I am facing a “What came first – the chicken or the egg?” dilemma here. EdgeRank shows me what it has thinks is important to me. Before I was aware of the way EdgeRank works, I simply assumed that I get to see all of the status updates of all of my friends. Therefore I only depended on my News Feed to show what has changed since the last time I logged on. I only respond to the updates, which are shown in my News Feed. This increases my affinity to the users displayed there. Although I might not be very interested in them, they would continue to rank higher up in my News Feed at the expense of those who do matter to me. Now I could do what I did in the early Facebook days and visit each individual page of those important to me to see, if anything has changed. This would increase their Affinity scoring and hopefully they would eventually rank higher up in my News Feed. Otherwise I might lose touch with some friends and form closer relationships with others as a direct result of coresponding more with them through my News Feed. Do you think I am right in claiming that Facebook is shaping our online friendships? Or do you think I am being paranoid?
- Bosker, B. (2012, February 29). Huff Post. Retrieved March 02, 2012, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/29/facebook-posts_n_1311330.html
- Silverman, D. (2011, September 21). timesunion.com. Retrieved March 02, 2012, from http://blog.timesunion.com/hottopics/facebooks-algorithms-page-changes-decide-whats-news-to-you/5500/
- (2012, January 31). Page 1 Solution. Retrieved March 02, 2012, from http://www.page1solutions.com/24-7-ams-blog/facebooks-algorithm-edgerank.html
- (2012, February 8). SEOptics. Retrieved March 02, 2012 from http://www.seoptics.co.uk/seo/the-facebook-algorithm