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On Facebook, we like what other people have already liked before us. Shutterstock
Marian-Andrei Rizoiu, University of Technology Sydney

This is the first article in a series looking at the attention economy and how online content gets in front of your eyeballs.


You may have read about – or already seen, depending on where you are – the latest tweak to Facebook’s interface: the disappearance of the likes counter.

Like Instagram (which it owns), Facebook is experimenting with hiding the number of likes that posts receive for users in some areas (Australia for Facebook, and Canada for Instagram).

In the new design, the number of likes is no longer shown. But with a simple click you can see who liked the post and even count them.

It seems like Facebook is going to a lot of trouble to hide a seemingly innocuous signal, especially when it is relatively easy to retrieve.

Facebook prototypes hiding like counts.

Facebook’s goal is reportedly to make people comfortable expressing themselves and to increase the quality of the content they share.

There are also claims about ameliorating user insecurity when posting, perceived liberty of expression, and circumventing the herd mentality.

But are there any scientific grounds for this change?

The MusicLab model

In 2006, US researchers Matthew Salganik, Peter Dodds and Duncan Watts set out to investigate the intriguing disconnect between quality and popularity observed in cultural markets.

They created the MusicLab experiments, in which users were presented with a choice of songs from unknown bands. Users would listen online and could choose to download songs they liked.

The users were divided into two groups: for one group, the songs were shown at random with no other information; for the other group, songs were ordered according to a social signal – the number of times each had already been downloaded – and this number was shown next to them.


Read more: Users (and their bias) are key to fighting fake news on Facebook – AI isn’t smart enough yet


A song’s number of downloads is a measure of its popularity, akin to the number of likes for Facebook posts.

The results were fascinating: when the number of downloads was shown, the song market would evolve to be highly unequal (with one song becoming vastly more popular than all the others) and unpredictable (the winning song would not be the same if the experiment were repeated).

Based on these results, Australian researchers proposed the first model (dubbed the MusicLab model) to explain how content becomes popular in cultural markets, why a few things get all the popularity and most get nothing, and (most important for us) why showing the number of downloads is so detrimental.

They theorised that the consumption of an online product (such as a song) is a two-step process: first the user clicks on it based on its appeal, then they download it based on its quality.

As it turns out, a song’s appeal is largely determined by its current popularity. If other people like something, we tend to think it’s worth taking a look at.

So how often a song will be downloaded in future depends on its current appeal, which in turn depends on its current number of downloads.

This leads to the well-known result that future popularity of a product or idea is highly dependent on its past popularity. This is also known as the “rich get richer” effect.

What does this have to do with Facebook likes?

The parallel between Facebook and the MusicLab experiment is straightforward: the songs correspond to posts, whereas downloads correspond to likes.

For a market of products such as songs, the MusicLab model implies that showing popularity means fewer cultural products of varying quality are consumed overall, and some high-quality products may go unnoticed.

But the effects are even more severe for a market of ideas, such as Facebook. The “rich get richer” effect compounds over time like interest on a mortgage. The total popularity of one idea can increase exponentially and quickly dominate the entire market.

As a result, the first idea on the market has more time to grow and has increased chances of dominating regardless of its quality (a strong first-mover advantage).


Read more: We made deceptive robots to see why fake news spreads, and found a weakness


This first-mover advantage partially explains why fake news items so often dominate their debunking, and why it is so hard to replace wrong and detrimental beliefs with correct or healthier alternatives that arrive later in the game.

Despite what is sometimes claimed, the “marketplace of ideas” is no guarantee that high-quality content will become popular.

Other lines of research suggest that while quality ideas do make it to the top, it is next to impossible to predict early which ones. In other words, quality appears disconnected from popularity.

Is there any way the game can be fixed?

This seems to paint a bleak picture of online society, in which misinformation, populist ideas, and unhealthy teen challenges can freely flow through online media and capture the public’s attention.

However, the other group in the MusicLab experiment – the group who were not shown a popularity indicator – can give us hope for a solution, or at least some improvement.

The researchers reported that hiding the number of downloads led to a much fairer and more predictable market, in which popularity is more evenly distributed among a greater number of competitors and more closely correlated to quality.

So it appears that Facebook’s decision to hide the number of likes on posts could be better for everyone.

In addition to limiting pressure on post creators and reducing their levels of anxiety and envy, it might also help to create a fairer information exchange environment.

And if posters spend less time on optimising post timing and other tricks for gaming the system, we might even notice an increase in content quality.The Conversation

Marian-Andrei Rizoiu, Lecturer in Computer Science, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Facebook has announced changes to its news feed flagged last year which will have the effect of prioritising posts from friends and video content over posts from media outlets and businesses.

For news outlets and pages this will change the likelihood of their posts appearing in your news feed.

Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s head of News Feed wrote in a post that Facebook was built to bring people closer together and build relationships

He wrote: “With this update, we will also prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people. To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about, and show these posts higher in feed. These are posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts that you might want to share and react to – whether that’s a post from a friend seeking advice, a friend asking for recommendations for a trip, or a news article or video prompting lots of discussion. We will also prioritize posts from friends and family over public content…”

“Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses.”

You can read Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement here in full:



So, what types of Page posts will show higher in News Feed?

According to Mosseri page posts that generate conversation between people will show higher in News Feed. For example, live videos often lead to discussion among viewers on Facebook – in fact, live videos on average get six times as many interactions as regular videos. Many creators who post videos on Facebook prompt discussion among their followers, as do posts from celebrities. In Groups, people often interact around public content. Local businesses connect with their communities by posting relevant updates and creating events. And news can help start conversations on important issues.



If you still want to see all content from a favourite page or business, you will still be able to; you’ll need to change the appropriate preference setting to see posts from your favourite pages.
This change is a sure-fire reminder that Facebook is there to make money and not just to give a business or publisher a free platform to promote itself and drive traffic. Organic reach will continue to decline for them and necessitate a rethink on the sort of content they provide and the level of sponsorship they will need or future posts.

If you’re a brand and can generate engagement, discussion and sharing then you may still be able to generate organic reach. However, all brands will need to rethink their content marketing strategies and decide how important Facebook is to their marketing programs.

Facebook has introduced these sorts of changes before and now it’s up to users and advertisers to react and respond.

Hopefully one meaningful change to news feed will be the penalising of publishers who seem to thrive on clickbait-type articles and headlines.  We’re looking at you, Fox Sports!

Image copyright: grinvalds / 123RF Stock Photo
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Another year is underway and nothing’s more certain than the changing social media landscape. It’s important to keep updated with relevant changes to your social media accounts and initiatives. Here’s a wrap of a few recent changes and trends which may impact your social media strategy: News Feed Update Now Responding To Surveys Facebook continues to tinker with its News Feed as it tries to improve the experience and show more relevant stories. This will of course assist with targeted marketing activities. Facebook news feed Facebook has traditionally used technology to hone the News Feed, tailoring the experience based on your likes, clicks, comments and shared posts. Facebook of course recognises that technology is not perfect in assessing your varied interests. It is now using qualitative research to have users rate their experience and assess posts in their feed. By surveying users and asking the question “how much did you want to see this story in your News Feed?”, Facebook is gaining a better understanding of what people are interested in seeing regardless of whether they interact with the post. According to Facebook people are having a better News Feed experience when the stories they see at the top are stories they are both likely to rate highly and and likely to engage with. Facebook is making an update to News Feed to incorporate this likelihood based on their research. These changes will have a varying degree of impact depending upon the composition of your audience and posting activity. Facebook says that in general this update should not impact reach or referral traffic meaningfully for the majority of Pages. Overall you should continue to post content that your audience finds meaningful and interesting. Facebook provides some good information on News Feed Best Practices and also Page post best practices. Review these regularly and track the effectiveness of your posts to give you greater insight into your most valued content and best posting habits. Facebook Sports Stadium Facebook is clamouring to get a slice of the real-time chatter which goes on during big events, particularly big sporting match-ups. This has long been the domain for Twitter where people can instantly share news, scores, opinions and generally vent about the last score. Twitter registered 28 million tweets for Superbowl 49 – up from 24 million the previous year and is favoured because of its immediacy. Facebook has responded by launching Facebook Sports Stadium aimed at their 650 million followers who like sports. It’s a place where you can see: -posts from your friends and their comments on the game -expert commentary and posts from those who cover the game and access to their Pages -live scores and stats -other game information like TV schedules. Facebook Sports Stadium Currently available for American football games it will soon cover other sports around the world. We’re bound to see it in Australia soon. It apparently struggled to keep up though with traffic during the recent Superbowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers and was a number of minutes behind with the scores. Facebook will persevere and it will be hard to bet against them making an impact during these live events. Soccer and the Olympics will surely be a huge worldwide draw card. Instagram Multiple Accounts InstagramOne eagerly awaited Instagram feature, which has been a long time coming, is the ability to run multiple accounts on Instagram. Up to now, you had to log off Instagram and log in under another account if you were, for example, using a private account and also managing a corporate account. Twitter and Facebook has had this capability for a while and finally it has come to iOS and Android in the latest Instagram version, 7.15. You now have the ability to add up to five accounts and you will be able to see which account you have active from several points in the app. This will be a huge time saver. Podcasts Podcasts are poised to become one of the fastest growing mediums for individuals and brands wishing to reach new audiences according to smk (social media knowledge). Podcasts have been around for some time and were first mentioned back in 2004. The rise of smartphones and tablets has certainly boosted their popularity. smk identifies a defining moment in the rise of Podcast being when ongoing true story Serial became the first to pass five million downloads in 2014. Podcasts are great to consume whilst you’re on the move with most listeners loving to learn about new things. Some of the most popular Podcasts in Australia currently include: Serial Stuff You Should Know Hamish and Andy TEDTalks Conversations with Richard Fidler podcast
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