Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Pack Of Algorithms

Everyone knows Facebook has an algorithm. An algorithm is one of those things--like a parameter, or a paradigm--that you can easily use in a sentence without knowing what it is, as in "Facebook has an algorithm."

"Algorithm" is named after 9th-century Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, in the sense of not being named before him. (Similarly, "G-string" is named after George Washington.) So algorithms have been around a long time. We just haven't much cared.

Unfortunately, ignorance causes us to be complacent about algorithms. We assume that Facebook is a big important company with smart people and they can be trusted with an algorithm or two. They might have started with just a cute little one but it never stops there. "No problem," we think, complacently, "surely they are free-range, grass-fed algorithms, and nothing hinky is going on."

But as soon as you turn the other way and let a nice company acquire algorithms, they're going to want more and more of them. At first they're going to be on display at the company headquarters campus, right near the artificial pond with the fake waterfall and the ducks. But soon enough they're part of a secret captive breeding program and there's no way for John Q. Public to keep track of what they're up to.

And what they're up to is figuring out every little thing about you so that you're more likely to part with some cash. Originally they were just set loose to herd data. It was a pretty good life for them, running free and nipping at heels and getting a lot of data all bunched up tidy so the fleecing could proceed more efficiently.  But then they were bred to be oh hey! Those are the very slippers I was looking for, right there in the sidebar! ever smarter.

One of the things some of Facebook's algorithms have been doing is deciding what goes into your personal news feed. You might think your friends have quit putting in stuff, but it's just that an algorithm has done some sniffing around and decided you weren't all that interested, and has run your friend's post right off the page. And since you don't see it, you don't miss it. And then they'll put in stuff from people you've never heard of that they think you'll like. But lately, they've gone even further. They've sniffed out the stuff people actually do click on, and thus might be expected to miss, and thought: well now! This must be valuable stuff. Maybe someone will pay us to prioritize this little item.

And that is why I can put out bits of cheer and delightful life observations and all manner of fun on Facebook, but if I put in a link to my latest Murrmurrs post, all of a sudden it's all arf arf arf and I Don't Think So, Missy. You don't get to just promote your stuff. Not even if you're not making any money off it. You want your Murrmurrs post to show up in everyone's newsfeed, you need to grease a little Facebook palm.

I was puzzled about this at first. I'd put in my link, and then Ditty the Dancin' Fool (frequent commenter, Friend Of Pootie, and loyal sharer) would put in the same link on her page, and all my friends' comments showed up on her link. They didn't even know her, but she'd tagged me and that was enough to get it to show up for my friends. And then I heard from people who wondered why I had quit linking to Murrmurrs, even though I always do.  And some who (gad) even wondered if I'd quit writing the blog.

NO! FOR SOME REASON I NEVER QUIT WRITING THE BLOG! I AM THE POSTER CHILD OF CONSISTENCY! Sorry. Didn't mean to go all peevy.

There are ways you can fix your own Facebook news feed. You can go to the top right corner and click on News Feed Preferences and click on Prioritize Who To See First.

Or you can click on my name and click on Following and check the box that says hell yes, I want to see links from this lady. Or maybe it says "see first"--could be.

Or, like good ol' Ditty, you can link to Murrmurrs yourself and tag me. Then even God will see it. Good luck, and don't slip in the algorithm poop.

53 comments:

  1. This is why I don't do FaceBook. They just have too much power, and make too many decisions about what they think a person should see/wants to see. Any time a service is provided free of charge, I have to wonder what they are getting out of it. In this case, obviously, they are paid heavily be advertisers. Same way with rewards cards. Some of them, I have. Others asked too many intrusive questions to sign up, so, no. And Google -- much as I love its know-it-all ways -- obviously targets ads to me. The problem with that is that I sometimes look up random stuff that other people mention, and that I may not particularly like. But Google sometimes erroneously assumes that I like this stuff. It's like a crazy aunt who knits you an ugly sweater. You wear it once -- in her presence -- to be nice. Then she thinks, "She likes it! I'll always knit her ugly sweaters for every gift-giving occasion!"

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    1. Unless they pop up, which is rare, I am good at ignoring ads. And sure they have to make some kind of money. I kind of get a kick out of how we've had this FREE playground for 15 years or something and most people like it, but they're incensed when something changes. I've been fine with all the changes until they decided to mess with ME!

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    2. I'm continually amazed at otherwise seemingly sensible people's willingness to use the resources of companies (or, for that matter, individuals) and then become unsensed (not a misspelling) when the purveyors of the service want to make some of their money back. Sure, GOOG makes a lot of money - some little amount even from my unimportant presence - but so what? I buy gasoline, electricity, pharmaceuticals and medical insurance from huge companies that are making obscene profits. Why should I complain when I'm getting a valuable service that is essentially free?

      Let's save our high dudgeon for things like homelessness in the world's richest country, or destruction of the ecosphere, or the Congressional friends of the aforementioned exploitative companies and their ilk.

      Finally, there's no such thing as privacy on the Web to begin with. Either don't use it at all (Too late!) or get over it.

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    3. My dudgeon is very low. Just involves their suppressing MY stuff. I have low stuff.

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  2. No FaceBook for me as well. But I always look at your blog on Wednesday and Saturday, usually the very first thing! Obviously, NOT earlier than mimimanderly, though.

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    1. She's an East Coaster! Gosh, that sounds like I'm calling her a slacker.

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  3. Facebook feeds me just enough of the people and relatives I want to know about , but no more. The rest is crap. I am very close to just leaving. The stuff they feed me is mostly annoying at best and infuriating on the down side. Maybe I could try shutting down the account and coming back as someone else. Time for a change.

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    1. Tried this---it doesn't work. FB knows your ISP or whatever, and just changes your name, but leaves all your friends, etc. So the same old, same old, but with your new name.

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    2. I know a woman in her nineties who got on Facebook and jumped right off ten years ago, and still get occasional notices. She's furious about it, and I get a call or a letter every time it happens.

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    3. Yup. I, too, was talked into signing up about ten years ago. I hated it. Tried to close my account, but it's like The Mafia: you can never resign. I still get some messages.

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    4. Maybe we should all demand a piece of the action or "our cut". Otherwise, dere may be consequences, if ya know whaddimean.

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    5. I like your attitude. Nice website. Shame if something bad were to happen to it.

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  4. Facebook has become a boring place. I get tired of the dumb links friends post. Videos, songs, games, argh:(

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    1. You need new friends. I get bird photos and cool old video clips. And fun commentary from clever people. My page is an entertaining place. Now, I did have to "hide" a few people for the transgressions you mentioned (plus a little right-wing foolishness), but not that many--only a handful. It makes a big difference.

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    2. Friends that post bird photos, I recommend.

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  5. I do Facebook to know if my family is still alive and to keep up with friends overseas...and to read Bloom County 2015...which is now only on Facebook. Can't wait to see what Opus will generate in unwanted ads!

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    1. He's STILL writing that? Really?

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    2. Berkeley Breathed just started drawing the strip again earlier this year. He said he was "inspired" by Trump's candidacy--he couldn't resist the chance to poke fun at the man who had always been one of his favorite targets. So I guess Trump is good for *one* thing, anyway.

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  6. Oh dear. Since I don't belong to the FB club, I don't have this problem. I've got your blog bookmarked on my computer so it's easy to find, and in case I somehow get amnesia, I'm signed up for your email notice that you've posted. It's a failproof system. I'm beginning to think that being a luddite has its advantages.

    I must say, though, you sound pretty impressive discussing this stuff.

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    1. Here's a big secret: I actually do know what an algorithm is. Don't tell anyone.

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    2. I looked it up in my dictionary, so now I know too.

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  7. Hey, I really tried to do this but Facebook only let prioritize the closest thirty of my friends and you didn't make the cut. But then I reprioritized and I see your posts. But I also have you in my Feedly account so Facebook can't stop me from reading your blogs. Otherwise I'd be REALLY grouchy.




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    1. Hey wait a minute, back up now...I didn't make the cut???

      I was wondering if there was a cutoff. I haven't done the priority thing myself.

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  8. I pop in every other day in case Farcebook has a personal message from a contact (it's the only way some people communicate!), but I am staying well clear of the current vitriole.Most of it with bad grammar!
    Your blog is in my reader;if it takes a few hours longer to reach me that's something I can live with.
    Oh...just thought I'd mention that I overheard a snippet in which someone confused Al Gore with algorithm.Because, like, he invented the internet...

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    1. The weird thing about Al is--he actually kinda did invent the internet. Ish.

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  9. You show up in "My Blog List," so I get to read every post. Thank goodness. I'm easygoing and donthavemuch of a problem with Facebook itself, but I am disappointed in many of my friends. Some of them seem to think that Obama-bashing is perfectly acceptable, and one of them praised the wisdom of Franklin Graham. I'm backing away for a while.

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    1. I don't have ANY friends like that. Either I've hidden the one or two I did have, or Facebook has correctly determined I don't want to see them. Franklin Graham, really? [shudder]

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    2. That's the most encouraging thing I've heard all day -- that you don't have any friends "like that." I have fine tuned my Facebook pals, too, but there are some with longterm ties, and it's discouraging to read their posts. The Franklin Graham comment came from a PhD.

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  10. Another excellent reason for me to keep avoiding Facebook.

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    1. Hey, I still like it. But my 500 friends are all super nice people.

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  11. So...are you going to try my new end-run around Facebook's suppression of "self-promotional" posts? I recommend it. At least until the hound catches up with us foxes again. And we are foxes...

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    1. Remember that little detail I discovered about my links? I fixed that, and now people seem to be getting my posts, at least some who weren't. Maybe I'm not as threatening as you! You fox, you.

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    2. Err ... what little detail would that be?

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    3. Um...my privacy setting might have been set to "family." However, I DID NOT put them there.

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    4. Yes, I remember. And yes, that was a big problem, but there's one beyond that. It's the algorithm that identifies a post with a link to one's blog as "self-promotional," and suppresses that post. Just tagged you in a more elegant and eminently more clickable solution. Very happy to have found a way out of that particular algorithm. Please try it! xoxo jz

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    5. I know my friend, Mia McPhearson who has a photography blog has found other little tricks to keep her blog in the public eye. Her blog is called "On the Wing Photography" and she often "likes" her own posts because that makes it show up in her friend's news feed. Also, she shares her posts in several FB groups, which also helps. Since I belong to these groups those posts and links also show up in my new feed. I belong to Maine Birds, Birders who Blog, tweet and Chirp, and Nature Bloggers. I believe you and Julie Zicke could join at least some of these groups and share your posts there as well. I am sure there are others that I have not heard of, of course. I am just mentioning them as one way to get your posts out there and be seen without having to pay for them.

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    6. I remember you live(d) on Mere Point Road! Just like a friend of mine!

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  12. I must be getting shorter cuz it all went over my head!

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  13. You, and Zick, and Jocelyn. All in my Feedly reader, delivered daily. Just read your bit on Jocelyn's post about love. I need some video of Dave bugling (?). Playing the bugle. That's what I meant.

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    1. None available. You should hear him playing "Stars and Stripes Forever" on a pencil. Amazing. And thank you! Zick and Jocelyn are company I'm proud to keep.

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  14. Goodness me! Perhaps if we look at FB critically and re-frame it in our mind's eye, we will be more accepting and less cynical.
    To me, FB is like taking a walk down a public street -- albeit a busy urban commercial corridor. As I stroll/scroll, there will always be merchants with display windows and advertising banners, reaching out to grab my attention and hopefully my business. (In that regard, it has never ruffled my feathers that Victoria's Secret insists on trying to distract me with their mis-directed efforts....) On the same stroll/scroll, there might be people passing by who I don't know, and simply ignore. There may also be a few folks that I just don't like, and we'll politely leave each other alone.
    Over the course of living adjacent to this street, I have managed to cultivate friendships with people. Ma Downs always told me not to say anything in public (or put into writing) anything that I didn't want to see on the front page of the Washington Post. So while I freely exchange greetings and news of the day with friends in public, if I want to discuss with them things like marital infidelity, or financial planning, then we have a private conversation, somewhere off the public street. But I"m sure that we all do that, since this is a pretty grown-up crowd.
    True, I once googled "Mack Weldon Underwear for Men", and now Mack and his boys' torsos tend to pop up whenever I'm sitting in front of a computer screen with a client.......but I figure that sooner or later, that same client will experience the same relentless pursuit from an equally inappropriate advertiser, and so I politely ignore Mack's unwanted appearances and focus on the business at hand.
    The only way to avoid the noise and distractions of a public street is to move to a gated community. And, the last time I checked, there was a monthly fee associated with getting that added measure of filtering out potential exposure to riff-raff, unwanted solicitors, and other people that would be turned away from the community's gatehouse guard, or, in the case of a condominium building, the front desk attendant.
    Of course, I am human -- there are times when I come home after running errands on the public retail corridor at the end of my block, and I am disgusted by the noise, chaos, and just plain bad taste that I have encountered. But at the other extreme, I am morally opposed to living in a controlled/gated/filtered environment -- partly because it seems elitest, partly because there is a price to pay for such filtering, and partly because I worry that such reduced stimulation and monotonous uniformity might lead to early onset dementia. Or depression, at least.
    Does this make any sense?

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    1. Absolutely. And I really have no quarrel with Facebook's game plan. Somebody needs to pay for all this free stuff. I'm just trying to come up with a way of avoiding the block with the dog that has it in for me. Whenever I write about Facebook I hear from people who are irritated about it, or can't understand what anyone sees in it, but I don't feel that way myself. I've learned how to navigate it well enough. Some people say it's a substitute for "real" human interaction, but it's real enough to me. And even if it is a substitute--hey. I'll admit it: it's a relief to me to have so much of my social interaction virtual. We're not all cut out for face-to-face, at least all the time. Well, I'm rambling...

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    2. Ed, that has got to be one of the BEST takes on FB I've either read or tried to express, myself --- in other words, I agree with you wholeheartedly! Thanks!

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    3. Good grief, man, now you've got me convinced that I should try it! (Actually I was wavering anyway, but your take on it is quite comforting for someone about to take the first step out on the wire.)

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  15. Murrmurrs, I think I see most of the links to your blog pass through my news feed but I don't always get here. I tend to procrastinate and think, "I will read that later," and then later I am reading something else and forget all about it, or I am in a hury to writ emy own blog post, or a birds flies by the window and I think, what am I doing INSIDE when I could be birding OUTSIDE, and so I am guilty of not coming to visit you. I am sorry, because you always make me laugh, and I need to laugh! Thanks for this info. I did find it helpful, as I am not very Facebook astute and I never have time to read all their rules and "helpful information!"

    I will try to visit more often. I don't want FB to win!

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    1. Seems to me you've got life just about right, and if I can be any leetle part of it, I'm that much honored.

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