Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Who Hid My FaceBook Friends?

I have a friend, Alisa, who lives on the west coast. I like to keep in touch, but lately I’ve seen fewer and fewer of her FaceBook updates. I decided to go looking for her updates, and those of other friends whose updates I used to see more often.

I discovered two things.

No, she hadn’t unfriended me, nor had anyone else I checked, though that’s always a nagging concern, right? 

No, the first thing I discovered by going directly to their Walls is that some people whose posts I used to see a lot had just stopped posting on FaceBook, or had slowed their activity dramatically. 

Good for them I thought. Get a life.

But Alisa had several recent posts. I just wasn’t seeing them.

Why not? I’m not certain, but logic tells me that FaceBook is to blame. Most people seem to think that whatever their friends post will show up on their News Feed, but that isn’t correct. FaceBook decides what shows up on your News Feed using algorithms they don’t fully disclose, so I can’t be sure, but here’s what I think is happening.

FaceBook algorithms apparently use your “Likes” and your comments on your friends’ posts, among other undisclosed criteria, to determine who FaceBook thinks you’d like to see more of on your News Feed. That gives them space to insert sponsored links (paid advertisements) into your News Feed and make money.

(No, FaceBook’s ultimate goal isn’t good karma for keeping you connected with your high school classmates. If you believe theirs is other than a profit motive, check under one of your status updates where it says Like and Comment and you will see a "Promote" option. Click on that and you can pay FaceBook $7 to place your status update higher on your friends' News Feeds.)

Now, if FaceBook shows the friends that draw your comments and “Likes” more often than others, then you will see the others far less often and therefor have fewer opportunities to comment and/or like their posts, making them show up even less often on your News Feed.  

A downward spiral into oblivion. An internet version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That, I suspect, is why some of our friends are disappearing.

There are some things you can do to stop this downward spiral, short of going to your vanishing friends’ Walls and liking all their updates (though, that would presumably work).

Close Friend and Acquaintances

If you hover over a friend’s status update, two boxes will appear. One says “Friends” and one says “Messages”. Click on “Friends” and you will see a number of options, including “Close Friends” and “Acquaintances”.

Click on “Close Friends” to see more of that person’s updates and “Acquaintances” to see less. (I’ll link to a video shortly to show you how.)


I prefer to solve the problem with lists. Lists, in this case, refer to lists of your friends with which you have something in common. I have a list, for example, of friends that went to high school at EHS, friends that went to college at UK, and friends I worked with at AOL. I didn’t even have to create them — FaceBook did it for me. They’re called Smart Lists.

Your News Feed is also a list, but it’s a special list. It’s a list of everyone you’ve friended. It is also special in that FaceBook decides what updates go on it. Your other lists show every update your friends post, as best I can tell.

And that’s how I got around my Alisa problem. I now click on the lists that FaceBook made for me, the lists of high school, college, work, family, etc. friends and check those instead of News Feed.

As a result of seeing them on these lists I will no doubt like and comment more and they will probably start showing up more on my News Feed as a result, by the way, where I will no longer be looking for them. 

You will find these smart lists on your FaceBook “Home” page at the top left under the heading “Friends”.

You can use the Smart Lists that FaceBook has created for you there, or you can edit those Smart Lists, or create your own by hovering over one of the list names and clicking “More” when it appears.

You can even use lists to post updates to certain groups of people. After you enter a status update and before clicking on “POST”, click on the “Friends” box. Use the drop-down list to select the list name that you want to post to. You might want an update to only be seen by your Family list or your High School Classmates list, for example.

You can also use a couple of these tricks to pretty much avoid people you would prefer not to see without the social trauma of unfriending them, but that will be in my next post. This one is about seeing more of people on FaceBook that you’d like to see.

There’s a video below to show you how this works.

One final note: FaceBook moves stuff around so often and renames the features that this will probably work a bit differently in the not-distant future. The short-lived “Subscribe” feature, for example, was renamed “Follow” not long ago, and “Unsubscribe” is still available, but it’s now a check-box item called “Show in News Feed” under the “Friends” drop-down box.

I rarely use News Feed, anymore. I check my lists, instead.

I missed Alisa and the others. She's interesting and she plays the  banjo. Maybe I'll make a list of my FaceBook friends who play banjo. You might be surprised by how many do.

Then again, I'm from Kentucky, so maybe you won't be.

(Click the box at the bottom right of the viewer for a larger screen.)

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