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Making Friends Lists, Checking Them Twice

by Whit Andrews  |  January 3, 2014  |  3 Comments

The Facebook conveyor belt is not working all that well these days for me either.

2010-10-30 Geeste, Moormuseum 007
(picture of a museum-resident conveyor belt by Allie_Caulfield, who tagged it as usable for such purposes)

I joined Facebook about 620 friends ago — that’s six years, in your likely measurement. After careful feed management, the creation of some custom friends lists (“Real Friends” and “People Who Like New Profanity” are examples),  and the occasional purge, I am now confident in saying I have absolutely no freaking clue why I see what I see.

I could read about it; this is true. I remember when I thought of “social media optimization” and Googled the term to discover that there were, like, three mentions of it on the Internet. (2007?) But I don’t want to read about it; I just want to sit down, look at Facebook, and see it working. I don’t want to learn how the algorithm works, and more important, I really don’t want to have to find another social media network, the way most younger folks seem to. (Yes, I’m on Instagram, but it’s very post-literate, and yes, I’m on Line, but it’s anti-literate, and yes, I know that’s me being old, but guess what? I kinda am.)

My friend Jim Tobin just wrote a fine, crisp blog entry on the issue of the Facebook feed’s freshness.  He couldn’t be more right about the feed’s confusing present, including in particular its problem with seeming stale. (Why do these same posts keep coming back? Yes, I know why. It’s a rhetorical question that means make it stop.) I’m also quite clear on how much I pay Facebook, which is nothing.

What stops this from being a rant (well, makes it less of a rant) is the simple fact that this is a major business stress. Facebook is at a point where it needs to find growth in what it sells, not in getting new customers. It has to scale, and scaling is the scariest thing I run into for companies of any size. The feed is standard, and Facebook knows that users like me — who create lists, tweak settings, learn the process — are quite rare. Most of us just accept the default, and responding to what we like is generally excellent business. Follow the data, like Google, and perfection will follow.

Maybe not. Artists of data analysis are difficult to find, and this is a hard place that Facebook finds itself. Twitter has no algorithm, and nor does Instagram, which makes them easier to parse, but they’re different businesses — not virtual kitchen tables, but virtual streetcorners. Facebook needs charisma, and the certainty of its mission. I hope it rights its algorithmic slide. Until then, I suspect I need to make better lists to defeat it.


Whit Andrews
VP Distinguished Analyst
14 years at Gartner
18 years IT industry

Whit Andrews is a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. Andrews covers enterprise search and enterprise video content management.Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Making Friends Lists, Checking Them Twice

  1. Jim Tobin says:

    Thanks for the mention Whit. I just believe they are ruining the user experience which hurts users, brands and the company. They need to change direction soon…


  2. Benoit says:

    To me FB has been a Godsend … its been terrific to be socially engaged, globally. But I am increasingly annoyed by advertising, which for me, at least, is almost never relevant or interesting. I’d be happy to pay for a “advertising-free” account, but I know this isn’t about *me*, so be it … I’ll tolerate, at least until the noise-to-signal ratio becomes unbearable or a better alternative emerges where I can find my friends.

  3. Whit Andrews says:

    The advertising on my feed is occasionally relevant — new albums by bands I have liked, for example. But too often it’s bottom-feeding ads that seem likely to have been sold at the lowest possible price, generally intended to capture my romantic interest. I remember when advertisers were still trying to get their brains around how to buy keyword ads on search engines, and I can’t help thinking that this is the same moment — the year 2000 in search engine land, when the ads were still not targeted well, and investors and users had lost hope that they ever could be.

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