Thursday, January 2, 2014

Facebook Is a Black Box

Ezra Klein finds the words to articulate what a Facebook sales rep once told me: so often does the company tweak its product that even she has difficulty staying abreast of the dizzying number of changes:

The algorithm powering Facebook’s news feed ... is a black box. No one outside the company knows exactly how it works. Facebook is constantly testing, tweaking, and reworking to ensure that the content users see is the content that keeps them coming back.

A few years back, for instance, it was known in the media that the algorithm penalized news organizations that posted more than three or four times a day. Then Facebook changed its mind: Now news organizations can post 10 or 20 times a day before taking a hit.

An example: on Facebook, you’d think that posting a 960x960 picture is your best bet. But as Upworthy found—at least as of July—simply posting a link and letting Facebook extract the picture yields more clickthroughs. (Photos get more likes and shares, but it’s not enough to make up for the lower number of clicks.)