Imagine being Facebook for just one user

Facebook for real by Christoph Aigner
facebook_for_real by Christoph Aigner licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Being Facebook can’t be easy. People complain whenever you make a change. Users are upset when you ask permission to get your job done. No matter what you try, your customers groan about how you decide what will show up in their News Feeds.

I’m sure I could do a better job than Facebook’s algorithms, so follow me as I step into the social network’s shoes.

I slip on my new sneakers and, before I can take a step, Mary comes to visit.

Forty-year-old Mary is one of my 829 million daily visitors.  She’s coming to look at pictures and videos from her 200 friends and 70 companies she “likes.”

I want to keep Mary happy. I want her to come back. I need to show her what she wants.

Mary’s friends (and liked pages) have posted 400 pieces of content since she visited yesterday.

The most recent picture was posted by Jim, Mary’s high school classmate. He shared a photo of a bacon burger he had for lunch.

First, I have to make sure this is something Mary wants to see:

  • Mary doesn’t follow any vegetarian or vegan pages. Good.
  • Mary’s religious affiliations don’t suggest that pork is banned from her diet. Good.
  • Mary hasn’t interacted with Jim since their high school reunion two years ago. Bad.
  • Mary lives in New York, far from the California restaurant where Jim got his burger – and Mary has never posted anything from her travels or about The Golden State. Bad.
  • Mary has shared pictures of fast food within the past week. Good.
  • Mary is one of the 6.5 million people who Facebook-like bacon. Ding. Ding. Ding. We’ve got a winner.

I definitely must show Mary that burger pic.

The next item on the list is a cat video shared by Mary’s cousin, Tyreke. Here we go again:

  • Mary is one of the 2.7 million cat lovers on Facebook. Good.
  • Mary frequently likes Tyreke’s posts. Good.
  • The video was originally posted five days ago. Neutral.
  • Mary is at work. Neutral.
  • Four of Mary’s relatives have liked Tyreke’s post. Ding. Ding. Ding. We’ve got a winner.

Okay. I’ve got two items to show Mary. Which one should I show her first? Let’s figure this out.

  • Mary posted an update from a burger joint just last week. Burger 1; Cat 0.
  • None of Mary’s friends have liked Joe’s post. Burger 1; Cat 1.
  • It’s almost lunchtime. Burger 2; Cat 1.
  • That cat video has been trending since it appeared on three trend-following blogs. Burger 2; Cat 2.

I give up! I couldn’t imagine doing this for 829 people multiple times a day.

I don’t envy the job of the Facebook algorithm that processes “countless signals that tell Facebook what to pump into a person’s News Feed.”

Oh, my imagined scenario mentioned a cat video, so I have to include this:

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