Fixing Facebook: A (Kinda Sorta) Live Feed

UPDATED 8/30/16 – added “Epilogue: Out of the Frying Pan and Into…Business Manager”

(Note: Regular Kimberly commandeered the blog this week while Auntie Kimberly was busy organizing her goofy sock drawer.)
SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Apparently, the only way to get Facebook’s attention these days is by using that newfangled Facebook Live feature. But I’m not super hip with new technology.  And I have a limited data plan on my phone.  So I’m going old school.

Tap, tap. Is this thing on?

Um, OK. Heh, heh! Let’s, uh, get started.

Hi, Mark Z.! Hi, Facebook employees! I’m Kimberly. We haven’t been formally introduced, but you do know me as one billionth of your daily active user pool.  Our collective sharing of personal data helped bring you 5.2 billion dollars in advertising revenue last quarter. Yes, that’s me – mediocre tennis player, member of the autoimmune disease club, Auntie, and cupcake/coffee addict. I identify as a metalhead, but I also love classical music, 70’s arena rock, and Broadway show tunes. I take thyroid meds, have an MBA, and occasionally travel for work. In addition to my personal profile, I have a Facebook Page for this blog, and I also administer two Pages as part of my job (well, now just one – more on that later). Of course, you already know all of this stuff.

I recently read that original Facebook sharing dropped 21% between 2014 and 2015 and that you’ve formed a special task force to find the Next Big Thing that will get people sharing again.

I love The Far Side by Gary Larson. (Of course, you already know that). One of my favorite cartoons shows a boy standing at the entrance to the “Midvale School for the Gifted”. He’s pushing with all of his weight against the door, completely oblivious to a large sign that says, “PULL”.

I think that’s kinda what y’all are doing right now – pushing on the entrance door instead of pulling.

You see, here’s the NEXT BIG THING: you don’t need a BIG THING in order to get people sharing again. You don’t have to solve world hunger or end homelessness or cure every disease on the planet (although all of these things would be awesome – and I would definitely give a 5-star rating to an autoimmune disease removal app).

The following five TINY things are really BIG THINGS that could re-energize the Facebook community. Please feel free to use these ideas. And you don’t have to pay me a penny! Although I wouldn’t say no if you wanted to express your gratitude by adding me to Facebook’s employee health plan. I don’t get health insurance through my employer.  (Of course, you already know that).  I therefore have to buy a policy on the individual market, where the options get crappier and crappier every year.  But that’s a Live Feed for another day.  Are you ready to get us all sharing again?  Here we go…

1. Fix my Newsfeed. For starters, let ME control what appears in my newsfeed. Me. The tennis-playing, headbanging, coffee sipping, thyroid med-taking Auntie and MBA. Don’t show me what a bunch of programming wonks from Menlo Park THINK I want to see, even though I know that they are super smart and would definitely beat me at chess.

I’ve never considered myself a Mean Girl, but I have an important message for “Top Stories”: Everyone Hates You.  Here’s what I *would* like to see: every post from all of my friends and liked Pages in reverse chronological order. I realize that I’m asking for a great deal here, and that this would be extremely complicated and would take a bazillion programming hours. Oh, wait, no it wouldn’t. Twitter already does this.

And if this format ends up creating way too much information to digest in a single sitting, then give me the tools to filter the posts MY way — for example, hiding news articles, memes, and/or memories.

A couple of years ago, a friend from out of town apologized when she found out way after the fact that I’d had surgery. She’d missed my post that contained this rather important information. Then later, I found out way after the fact that she’d been hired for a great new job. I’d missed HER post that contained this rather important information.  How about allowing the Timeline to take a page from Pages and include one pinned post?  A “Pinned Feed” option would be awesome – one that would show all newly pinned posts since I last looked at the News Feed.  No more missed updates about really important stuff like an illness, a new job, a wedding, or an addition to the family.

But perhaps just as important as what I do want to see is what I don’t want to see.

I don’t want my News Feed clogged up with posts from people I don’t know – just because they’ve tagged one of my Friends in a photo. I mean, seriously – if my Friends want me to know they are out having fun without me, they can share the photos on their own Timelines, right?

And I really don’t want to see rogue posts in MY News Feed that are only there because my friends liked (oops, I mean reacted to) or commented on them in THEIR News Feeds. My Facebook Friends come from varied aspects of my life – including family, work, school, community, and shared interests. And while I care about all of these people personally, I don’t necessarily care about all of their hobbies. I mean, if a Friend who pursues extreme ironing (yes, that’s a real thing) wants to post a selfie while ironing dress shirts on top of Machu Picchu on their own Timeline, great – I’ll probably give it a “Wow” reaction.  But I don’t want to see an article from the New York Times about extreme ironing in my News Feed because this Friend happened to react to or comment on it.Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 3.21.22 PM

Likewise, I’m pretty sure that my tennis, school, hometown, and work Friends are sick of seeing my comments and reactions on all of Myrath’s Facebook posts. (Just in case you DO happen to be interested, Myrath is an awesome Franco-Tunisian progressive metal band.) And anyone who lives outside a 25-mile radius of my home probably doesn’t care about my daily “Love” for pictures of Turkish Borekas coming out of the oven at my favorite local bakery. (OK, maybe a 75-mile radius. They are REALLY TASTY Turkish Borekas).

2. Respect my Privacy. Not allowing users to control who sees our reactions and comments is mostly an annoyance issue – but it can also be a privacy issue. The page I administer for work is devoted to a specific medical condition. For the sake of simplicity (and, of course, privacy), let’s call it Scurvy. And let’s say that Captain Jack Sparrow sees our post, “Ten Truths of Living With Scurvy” in his News Feed. Captain Jack hesitates for a moment as he ponders whether to click “Love” or “Wow”. But then he remembers that reacting or commenting could put this story – along with the heading, “Captain Jack Sparrow Liked This” into the News Feed of everyone on his Friends list. What if one of the other eight Pirate Lords catches wind of Captain Jack’s diagnosis and decides to not hire him for a future plundering opportunity?   I mean, who wants to hire a team member with Scurvy? Sure, it will start innocently enough, with Captain Jack just taking extra long lunch hours for doctors’ appointments. But where will it stop? Will Captain Jack use up all of his sick days and then want even more time off? Will he request a switch to part-time status? Will he ask for permission to start looting from home? So even though he really does like our article, Captain Jack moves on without reacting to our post, and instead shares a hilarious meme of Grumpy Cat passed out next to an empty bottle of Mount Gay Rum.  (Yes, I do like Johnny Depp.  But you already know that).

This lack of control over our own comments and reactions is a major contributor to the decrease in sharing, and y’all have a fancy name for it: context collapse. I call it a collapse of common sense. Please bring common sense BACK. Give me the option to prevent my own reactions and comments from zooming out into cyberspace without my blessing.

Check Ins are an even bigger privacy concern. I never use the Check In functionality when I am boarding a flight for a work trip, catching some rays on the beach, or even dining at a local restaurant. And no one should be able to do this FOR me. Whenever I see that I’ve been involuntarily Checked In somewhere, my first thought is, “Wow, this is great – because I forgot to put the ‘Please Feel Free to Rob My House’ sign out on the front porch before I left. Now the burglars will KNOW that I’m gone!”

3. Take Care of my Business (Page). When Facebook’s development model was changed in 2014 from “Move Fast, Break Things” to “Move Fast With Stable Infrastructure”, the folks in the Business Pages division were apparently too busy playing Candy Crush Soda Saga to read the memo.

About a month ago, I went to access the Page that I manage as part of my job. But something wasn’t right. Instead of seeing the notifications, messages, and friend requests for my business Page at the top of the screen, it was all my personal stuff. I thought it was a glitch. But the same thing happened when I tried to log in a couple of hours later. And again the next day. And the day after that. After scouring the Internet and filing multiple “Something’s Broken” reports, I eventually discovered that this change was deliberate. Welcome to Facebook’s new Business Pages. Turns out this update had been selectively launched a few months before to a firestorm of complaints in the Help Center. Facebook chose to ignore this feedback and instead rolled the change out to a wider group of Pages in March.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.47.45 PM (1)The chipper admins on the Facebook for Business Page (and I do have some sympathy for them, being an admin myself) noted, “The ability to login and use Facebook as the Page you manage is no longer available. However, we’ve built parallel features to enable you to do all of the same things you could previously do.”

Hmm…let’s see. “Liking” another Page as my business Page used to require one step: click the “Like” button. These days, it works like this:

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.53.35 PMi) Find the Page I want to “Like”.
ii) Click the three dots at the bottom right-hand corner of that Page’s cover photo.
iii) Click “Like as your Page”.
iv) Click the arrows next to “Select a Page”.
v) Click the name of my Page.
vi) Click Save.
vii) Click OK.

Now, I’m a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. (But you already know that). And I’ll be the first to admit that I spent most of my ninth grade geometry class reading the “Lord of the Rings” series instead of paying attention to the instructor. However, I’m pretty sure that a set of parallel lines looks like this….

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.46.42 PM

And not like this…

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 5.46.56 PM

Seriously, does this make sense to ANYONE? I mean, what if someone from Southwest Airlines said, “Hey, instead of flying people from Los Angeles to San Francisco, why don’t we fly them from Los Angeles to Dallas to New York to Milwaukee and THEN to San Francisco? We’ll call it a parallel route!” No, they wouldn’t do that, because the folks at Southwest Airlines are SMART and they like having customers.

And for some page admins, the new 7-step “parallel” process for “Liking” another page won’t work at all, because the selection arrows are missing.

There are other issues as well. First, the Pages Feed is now incredibly slow to load.  I feel like I used to provide a service by following a large number of Pages that posted on general healthcare issues and only sharing the posts that were of specific interest to our community.  However, last week, I went through and unliked or unfollowed 90% of these Pages.  I just don’t have time to scroll through the painfully slow Pages Feed, and I can get the same information from Twitter.

Second, notifications no longer take you to the exact spot in the thread that triggered the notification.  If it was a comment that triggered the notification, you can at least sort chronologically, but if it was a reply, you have to dig through every single comment to find the one with the most recent reply. Parallel features? I don’t think so.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 3.21.02 PMAnd perhaps the biggest source of frustration for Page admins is Facebook’s refusal to address the problem, despite more than 1,500 complaints posted in the Help Center in the last month and close to 2,000 signatures on a change.org petition. Any explanation at all would be better than the radio silence that has greeted the thousands of admins who have posted about their difficulties with the new system.

For example, how about, “We forgot to beta test the changes to Pages because someone left a box of Krispy Kremes in the break room and we got distracted. We’re sorry and we’re working to fix it.”

Or, “Our lead programmer’s 5-year-old accidentally crashed the Business Page functionality while illegally downloading Curious George videos on Take Your Child to Work Day. We’re really sorry and we’re working to fix it.”

Or even, “We rolled out these awful changes on purpose. We’re planning to bring back the old functionality, but businesses are going to have to pay for it! We’re really, really sor- oh wait, we’re actually not sorry, but hey, at least we’re being honest.”

But the reality is that Page admins haven’t heard a peep as to the reasons behind this change. In fact, criminals are taking advantage of the lack of response in the Help Center and posting fake “Tech Support” numbers, preying on those who are desperate for help and a little too trusting.  So the message seems loud and clear that Facebook doesn’t value my time as an admin, nor the work I do for my community.  In the meantime, the new process is so cumbersome that I’ve stopped posting on the smaller of two work Pages that I administer, and I’m seriously thinking about shutting down the larger Page and instead directing people to our organization’s website as well as our LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and YouTube sites.

4. Keep my Work and Play Separate. Yeah, I know that many of Facebook’s employees are Millenials. Y’all like to work anywhere, anytime. But I’m a Gen X’er, more on the cusp of the Baby Boomer side than the Gen Y side. I find that my work is better and my personal life is better when I am doing ONE or the OTHER – not trying to juggle both at the same time. Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 12.39.01 PMWhen I am working on the Page I administer for my job, I do NOT want to see my personal notifications light up like a Christmas tree.  It’s a huge distraction. (“Hey! Maybe one of my Friends shared that Grumpy Cat Mount Gay Rum meme!”)

On the flip side, when I am sitting at home on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee catching up on news from friends and family, I do NOT want to see notifications or posts suggesting that I “Promote” or “Boost” the page I administer for work.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 6.18.44 AM

Above: a clip from an ad that appeared in my personal News Feed suggesting that I “Get more Page likes” for the Page I administer for work. Below:  a recommendation to “Boost” a post on my employer’s Page, mixed in with my personal notifications.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 3.13.50 PM (1)The only thing Facebook is going to manage to “Boost” at that point is my blood pressure. Here’s a “parallel” example.  If you are an office manager, will you be more likely to purchase a copier if the salesperson shows up during a) your Daytona Beach vacation; b) your kid’s soccer game; or c) office hours at your actual OFFICE?  Now, I’m not opposed to being asked to buy advertising or to seeing some ads in my News Feed so that employees can feed their families.  If Facebook wants to use my personal News Feed to ask me to buy advertising for my hobby page, fine. If Facebook wants to use my Pages Feed to ask me to buy advertising for my employer, fine. But don’t cross the streams. (Did you catch the Ghostbusters reference? I love that movie. But you already know that.)

With the recent changes to Business Pages, the separation of my work and personal existence on Facebook has became even thinner – to the point where it would be VERY easy to accidentally post a comment as myself instead of as my Business Page. And on a couple of occasions, a Visitor Post that was supposed to be shared on my Business Page was about a millisecond away from getting splashed all over my personal Timeline.

Twitter allows complete separation of accounts. LinkedIn and Google+ require a personal account for setup, but then once you click a few buttons, you are in a completely separate area for your business page. To me, the best approach would allow companies to set up a business Page on Facebook using a tax ID number and bypass personal accounts completely. (Facebook’s Business Manager sort of addresses this – but the person who does the initial setup still must use their personal account.  And I’ve heard way too many complaints about BM to want to pursue this option).

5. Give Me a Warning When Functionality is Going to Change. When stuff is going to change, would it kill you to give me a little advance notice? The rollout of changes to Facebook Business Pages is a textbook example of failure to communicate, but this happens on my personal page as well.  I recently couldn’t find my News Feed. I eventually discovered that I had to click “Home” to get there. Really? Isn’t that kind of counterintuitive? Wouldn’t “Home” be a better place for my Timeline? I mean, when I select “Home” on my car’s GPS system, it takes me to the place WHERE I LIVE and WHERE ALL MY STUFF IS. It doesn’t take me to the post office or a concert hall or Starbucks. (Although, yeah, I can see how the home/Starbucks thing might be kinda confusing.)

So there you have it, Facebook:  five TINY things that are really the NEXT BIG THING. And what makes these five tiny things even BIGGER things is that they all feed off of each other. When my business Pages Feed is slow to load, when someone checks me in at a location 2,000 miles from home, when I see Facebook hijacking my personal News Feed to try and sell ads to my employer, or when I find out after the fact that a friend’s major life news didn’t make it to my News Feed, I get cranky. And when Facebook becomes a source of stress, my level of engagement goes way down.

You might not be able to imagine a day when Facebook loses enough of its customer base to fail or become irrelevant, but remember AOL? Or Sharper Image? Or MySpace? Or WebVan? Or Blockbuster Video? No matter what business you are in, there is always something new on the horizon that could lure away your customers – and at this point, my loyalty is wearing thin.

But I really hope that you do manage to regain my interest and my confidence and my trust. Facebook has helped me re-connect with many old friends and co-workers who I’d previously lost contact with. Facebook is always my go-to source if I need advice on making a major purchase or visiting a new city. It’s great for setting up events; my latest high school reunion was pretty much planned exclusively using Facebook. And I’d be a big, fat, liar if I said I didn’t enjoy having my Timeline plastered with birthday greetings on my special day.

So please consider making these small fixes to get our relationship out of “It’s Complicated” status and back into a better place.  There is good in you. I’ve felt it.

Did you catch the Star Wars reference? I’m a big fan. But you already know that.

Final note:  Before publishing this post, I asked myself if it was fully compliant with the standards I set for myself in the “Karma and the Lost Art of the Graceful Complaint” blog post.  I decided it was, as the lack of response from Facebook on the Pages issue opened up the “problems not getting resolved satisfactorily” loophole.  And even so, I still think I was pretty darn graceful.

Epilogue: Out of the Frying Pan and Into…Business Manager (Added 8/30/16)

Hi, Mark Z.! Hi, Facebook employees! Yep, I’m still here. Several months have now gone by without any fixes for the wonky features and broken functionality Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 10.29.18 AM (1)that came with the “upgrade” to Pages. It’s still the #1 complaint in the Help Center, except that one of you has helpfully deleted the last five months worth of comments, and any new comments go into some sort of social media black hole. There’s no telling if this was done this on purpose to hide how unhappy users are – or if it’s just another bug y’all are ignoring.

I’ve had some time now to live with the new Pages format. The good news is that things aren’t TOO terrible for my small personal hobby Page, as I don’t receive many notifications – and I don’t need to interact with other Pages.

However, the Page I manage for work (again, for the sake of a semblance of privacy, let’s call it “The Scurvy Page”) has nearly 16,000 “Likes”. A post that really strikes a chord with our community can generate a boatload of comments/replies, and there are a number of other Pages that I interact with. And for a Page like that, your new format is a hot mess. So with no relief in sight, I finally made the leap to Business Manager for my work Page, and I thought I’d catch you up with my experience there.

I was told that BM (gotta love the acronym) would fix my issues with notifications. Nope! My notifications are as messed up as ever. Say I get a notification that Long John Silver commented on my “Ten Truths of Living With Scurvy” Post. I click the link, and it takes me to the top of the post. Which would be fine, except that there are 75 comments. And since I can’t find Captain Silver’s post using the “sort chronologically” option, his comment must have been a reply to someone else’s comment. Apparently, y’all think I don’t have anything better to do than sort through 75 comments looking for a reply. Will I strike gold (or Spanish Galleons) on comment #1? Or somewhere in the range of comments #31-47, which unfortunately degenerated into an extremely ugly debate over the origin of the phrase, “Davy Jones’ Locker”? Or will I have to slog all the way to comment #75? One possible bright spot is I’ve found that notifications seem to work the old way (you know, the one that actually made sense) if I click the global notifications at the top level of BM (pictured below right). But for some reason, that notifications button doesn’t always light up when it’s supposed to – and the count almost never matches the one on the individual Page (at left). So which one am I supposed to be paying attention to?

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 2.47.20 PM               Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 2.47.37 PM

Another issue is that if I try to share a Visitor Post, the default is for the post to be shared to my personal Timeline. Seriously, to the rocket scientist who thought this was a good idea, what the Hades were you thinking? I mean, if Cap’n Crunch posts on my Page asking about a referral to a dentist because his teeth are falling out, he wants it shared with a community of like-minded individuals. Not with all of my personal friends. Because what if I just happen to play tennis with the Director of Sponsorships at the Quaker Oats Company, who was previously unaware that Cap’n Crunch has scurvy? Buh-bye, cereal box cover!

And BM makes it much more difficult to interact with other Pages. The only way to easily comment on another Page’s post is via the Pages Feed (one small improvement is that the Pages Feed is quicker to load on BM). It’s impossible to go directly to another Page unless you’ve “Liked” that page. But once you do go to that Page, whoops! Facebook flips you to your personal account. I really don’t want Sir Francis Drake sending me hateful personal messages because he didn’t like the comment I accidentally posted under my own name on the “Friends of the Spanish Armada Page.” Although to be fair, I’ll probably never see the messages, because they would get dumped in the Other Other Other OTHER folder, along with the information that I had asked for six months ago on joining the Scurvy Alliance Facebook Group. (And all this time, I thought they were ignoring me).

And suppose I want to Unlike the “Official Captain Feathersword Fan Club Page” to get them out of my Pages Feed because they post 15 video clips every day of The Wiggles. Sorry! Too bad! Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 2.34.25 PMThere’s actually a convoluted process that is supposed to accomplish this (basically reversing the seven steps required to “Like” another page), but for my Page, it doesn’t work. I just get a continually spinning ring, which I suspect might have been forged by the Dark Lord Sauron.

Did you catch the “Lord of the Rings” reference? I still love Tolkien. But you already know that.

After the conversion to BM, I was happy at first that I could no longer see work notifications on my personal Timeline, and no personal notifications on my business Page. This meant that I could focus 100% of my attention on work when I was on my business Page – and 100% of my attention on catching up with friends and family when I was on my Timeline. But my happiness was short-lived. A couple of weeks ago, a notification that should have gone to my business Page went to my personal account instead. And today, I discovered that after I had finished working on my business Page and flipped to my personal Timeline, EVERY SINGLE FREAKING NOTIFICATION from my business Page was mixed up with all my personal notifications. When I logged out and went back in, they were thankfully gone. Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 2.21.22 PM (1)If it happens again, I guess I’ll submit a “Something’s Broken” report so that an actual live Facebook employee can personally review the issue, outline the steps that Facebook is taking to correct the situation, and then provide an estimated time to resolution. Ha, ha! Just kidding!

The good news, though, is that y’all have been great about letting Page admins know when you are about to do a fruit basket turnover with our Page layout. Ha, ha! Still kidding! I’m cracking myself up here! A few weeks ago, my Pages Feed disappeared. After having a major panic attack, I found it on the other side of the Page. Y’all kind of remind me of the schoolyard bully who would grab your lunch box and hold it up high, just out of reach, and then snatch it even higher when you tried to jump. “Do you want your Pages Feed, sissy admin? Jump for it! Jump for it! Whoops – missed it! Try again! What, are you gonna cry now? Cry baby admin! Cryyyyyy!” Yep, Facebook appears to be the Scut Farkus of Social Media.

Did you catch the reference to A Christmas Story? I love that movie.

But you already know that.

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