November 18, 2012, 9:00 AM — Would Yoda lie to you? That's the question Facebook wants you to ask.
As I noted in this space last week, lots of highly vocal people are really ticked off at Facebook because they feel the social network has been deliberately throttling the number of posts their fans see in order to sell more ads. Facebook has been steadily if geekily denying this.
So last week it gathered a posse of friendly journalists and brought in the big guns -- Yoda, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader -- to help them make its case. Essentially, Facebook product manager Will Cathcart explained, the News Feed is a complicated stew that weighs things like whether you and others have Liked posts from a particular page, how often you've done it, the kinds of posts you and others have Liked, and if you or others have ignored or complained about posts from this source.
I'll let Facebook's unofficial apologist and biggest fan, TechCrunch's Josh Constine, take it from here:
Cathcart used a Star Wars-themed example to explain how these work. Let’s say Darth Vader posts that he and Luke Skywalker have confirmed that they are father and son. To determine if Yoda saw this post in his news feed, Facebook would look at: whether Yoda had Liked or interacted with posts by Vader in the past, if Leia and Han Solo Liked the relationship post by Vader when Facebook showed it to them, whether Yoda tended to interact with relationship change posts in the past, and whether anyone else had complained about Vader or this particular post by the Sith Lord.
But what about the Ewoks? Has anyone ever stopped to think about them?
Just for fun, let's assume for a minute Facebook is telling the truth -- that it hasn't changed how the News Feed works in order to sell more Promoted Posts, that it has always filtered the feed based on an algorithm too complicated for we puny humans to understand. Pay no attention to the man behind the EdgeRank curtain; same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
There's an essential disconnect here, and it goes back to the day in 2007 when Facebook introduced Pages and started coaxing celebrities and brands to open up shop on the social network. Back then, the pitch was 'Start up a page with us and build an audience of fans you can market to directly, who will then promote your brand to others.' The assumption was that if you started up a page and managed to attract 10,000 fans, those 10,000 people would see everything you posted. They'd Like some of them, their friends would notice, and your fan base would grow exponentially.