in blogging, social networks, tech, wordpress, writing

A year ago, I decided to change my relationship with Facebook. I decided to be more active on the network, but not in the way Facebook would want me to be – commenting, liking, browsing, and clicking more.

I wanted to use Facebook to put out my thoughts more. So I actively started blogging more and putting it all on Facebook, a practice I had stopped for a while because I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I did another thing – something I’ve often been told off for, but I just wanted to experiment with – I connected my twitter account with Facebook. The benefit? All my tweets (and quote tweets, which is a little silly) started getting posted to Facebook. This meant that each passing, silly thought, which we often toss into the void, became instantly visible to my real life friends.

In a way, I did do all the things that would be considered an increase in Facebook activity – I have spent the past year listening to a podcast called Philosophize This! The podcast has an accompanying community on Facebook. Though I didn’t interact with the community much, I did become a part of it. I also found a community relating to an app I use a lot – Day One. The community also chugs along, though I’ve not derived as much value from it as I would like.

I also started using Facebook a lot more. There was a time when I would gleefully count the stupid notification counter on the Facebook website approach 99. I call it stupid not because I have prejudice against it. I like notifications. They’re an excellent approach to garnering attention. But somewhere along the way, Facebook decided that I am not a worthy enough user of their service and they downgraded my experience. They made the counter stupid by pushing every little activity to it. Things which belong in the newsfeed – someone posted something, someone liked someone else’s post, someone had a birthday – were suddenly in my notifications. But at the beginning of the year, I decided to be more proactive, hoping that the algorithm would notice this and rid me of the stupid notifications and only give me the smart ones. I’ll let you know that the algorithm is not smart. It never did recognize my contribution and that portion of the experiment quickly bombed. Now I don’t care what the notification counter says. Whenever it irks me, I click it to reset it and ignore the notifications. (They’ve added even more notifications now – friend suggestions, community posts; heck they’ve even added Facebook notifications to the Instagram app, because why ruin just one social network when you can ruin two?)

I even went ahead and actively started using Instagram. I thought, maybe one Facebook property will feed into the algorithm of the other? See above regarding algorithm smartness.

But the last thing, that of posting more, I did religiously. After my initial December 20th, 2017 post, I’ve posted 25 public posts on my blog, a marked increase over the 13 posts I made in 2017. The plan was that all of the posts would be posted to Facebook and the ensuing conversations, controversy, and opinion would all happen in Facebook. After all, only if I contribute more to the platform, will I reap the rewards of the happiness that are supposed to come from it.

I also definitely did not delete any (well, most) of the tweets that got pushed from twitter to Facebook. I don’t like posting about political stuff openly. It’s like religion, everyone has one, and it’s best kept personal. But some tweets do get out once in a while. I believe I deleted those from Facebook. About 70 tweets made it to Facebook before disaster struck.

In the words of Hillary Clinton,

What Happened?

Well, the year started off nicely. Posting to Facebook is certainly a good way to garner attention. Friends who often forget that I have a blog were reading my posts and sometimes even clicking through to come to my actual website to check it out. The fact that Facebook discards in-text HTML, thus removing all URL references from a post both helps and hinders. It removes all context, but it also means that astute readers realized they had to click through.

I don’t have a lot of unknowns on my Facebook account. I do have a bunch of acquaintances, and people I haven’t met in years. I’m not a particularly social person irl. But everyone on there is someone I know or knew once. So it’s not like I was able to appeal to the masses and drive ‘traffic’ to my blogs. What I did achieve is a meager amount of conversation – a few likes and comments per post.

This extended to both types of posts. Folks who had never heard me express things about the random topics I post about on twitter and other microblogs, suddenly had access to my thoughts. Some reacted like idiots, some had positive or negative comments, and some just hit like and moved on.

All this stopped on August 1st. The declaration came in the form of a blog post by Facebook on their developer portal on April 24th. It was hidden between a bunch of other deprecated APIs, which I’m sure broke a lot of other things for other people. At the time, a huge noise rose, specially in the WordPress world about this. A lot of blogs depended on this API to post to Facebook using either the Jetpack plugin or the dlvr.it service (or other, similar services). Matt Mullenweg commented on the change, hoping that Facebook will reverse their decision and re-embrace the open web, to which this decision shuts the doors. But that’s not Facebook’s way. I reckon they heard him once in 2017, so they’re done listening to him for a decade.

I didn’t bother with finding workarounds to this problem. Smarter and more dedicated people than me would have found ways if there were any. Regardless, I wrote a blogpost on August 2nd and manually posted it to my Facebook profile on August 11th. This was my last cross-post from twitter or my blog to Facebook. It did not get any likes or comments.

According to some people, removing this API is important in helping fight the corruption that was revealed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But from what I can see, removing the ability for content to come in through legitimate sources is certainly not the way to go if you want to increase trust in your system. This was just a random move by Facebook, which is running around in headless chicken mode right now. It would be better if it were actually headless right now though, because the current head is part of the pattern of problems that Facebook manifests in this world.

Regardless, my year-long experiment ended mid-year.

The outcome of this experiment was this – I fell in love with the written word again. I also fell in love with my blog again. Though I now have newfound respect for a few things – first of all, I’m glad that my twitter is no longer connected to Facebook. The stream of consciousness that goes into twitter is not at all suited to Facebook, even though it should be, and for a majority of the world this has been a learning curve. Rants and raves belong to the place where outrage is common. You put it on Facebook and you alienate friends and get fired from jobs. While none of that happened to me, the effect was clear – people who I’ve never bothered to talk to my every day thoughts about were suddenly talking to me about them whenever I met them. This was… awkward. So I’m glad it’s no longer happening.

The second thing I’m glad of is discovering a rather important aspect of WordPress – private blog posts. While I’d like to talk about this more in another post, the overview is this – when you see 24 published posts for the year of 2018, I see 58. My process used to be that I would write a post and just leave it in drafts if it didn’t feel ‘complete’. This was wholly unsatisfying. Now, I privately publish my posts, giving them a timestamp that helps me date my thoughts. I also believe deeply in the concept of the blog as an Outboard brain as once proposed by Cory Doctorow. Though not as vibrant and well published as his blog, Boing Boing, my blog is my space, and having things published and showing up on the home page of my site when I’m logged in means I get to think about those things more.

What happened on the Facebook end of things? I noticed that the folks who interacted most with my posts were the same over and over – friends in the US who share my time zone, and some in India who I frequently interact with on Facebook. But what happened when the posts stopped? Nothing.

No one noticed. No one pinged me and asked me what was wrong with my blog and my tweets. Part of this is just the way the internet operates. Even with the extensive RSS setup I have, where I follow a lot of amazing blogs, if one slows down, I don’t have an easy way to figure it out. Time spent on the internet gets filled up by whatever is available.

The other half of this, I blame on Facebook. Their algorithm has become too smart for themselves. A willing user such as I should be able to push my posts to my friends without acting like an SMB and paying them money. In the same breath that they turned off the wall feeds, they promoted creating a separate page for one’s blog. This is a bad approach. For Facebook, it makes perfect sense – they can easily show hundreds of thousands new pages being created within the year, with all that untapped potential for paid promotions. That money will never come. A blogger such as I would rather trust the open web as a source of feedback and views than Facebook, whose track record for respecting ad spend is poor if not terrible. Facebook is a hungry beast, always looking for its next fix.

I’m tired of being Facebook’s fix. I don’t care for it any more. I have had an intense love for it as a platform at one time. I’ve been in awe of the leadership at one point. But now the spells are broken. 2018 was a journey, both public and private, in trying to see where Facebook goes. For me, it’s led itself to a dead end.

postscript – I opened Facebook recently, after perhaps a month, and a few things jumped at me. First of all, Facebook wished me for being with them since ten years. I think that’s serendipity. No social network online has a good life of more than a decade. Facebook should be no exception. While the company has morphed and plundered and established itself as the place to go to steal access user data, it should know that its main platform is tired and done for. I will slowly stop visiting and interacting with it. I know a lot of people have done this in 2018, but I still have derived some utility from it, so I’m sure it’ll feel somewhat bad to do so. On a new device I setup recently, I specifically made it a point to uninstall Facebook (it came preinstalled for some reason), while I did install Instagram. I know this is counter intuitive, but this is a signal from me to the company that it’s time to retire your aging platform or at least break it up instead of amalgamating into it. Facebook’s ugly attempts at driving people back towards their main property are so transparent that they should accept that it’s time.

The second thing I noticed was that Facebook had killed off an ugly experiment it has forced me to be a part of since two years – the Facebook marketplace and Video tabs. The main app has had these tabs since the beginning of 2017 for me (ymmv) and I never used them. I’ve looked forward to the day Facebook does *one* smart thing and recognizes that users would like an experience that’s suited to their needs instead of Facebook’s. By the way, for a brief time last year, when I discovered the Facebook groups app, my daily activity on Facebook actually increased, because I was able to get an ad-free, clean, groups-only experience of Facebook. Then FB killed off that app. So it goes. I’m glad that Facebook has removed its craigslist clone from my Facebook experience, but I didn’t celebrate it the day I saw it. Too little, too late.

What do you think?

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19 Comments

  1. @nitinkhanna i got intrigued by the “with” in the title, not the usual “without.” It is a shame that Facebook seems to be doing everything wrong, I really liked your experiment – while reading I was considering following it.

    I specially liked the paragraph about Facebook filling the void with more stuff and people not realizing something is missing.

  2. @fcy thank you! Yes, it’s certainly tempting to try to personalize Facebook.

    It was a little heartbreaking, though, when I realized that no one on there is missing my content. But some quiet contemplation made me realize the problem with their algorithm.

  3. A year with Facebook by Nitin Khanna

    All this stopped on August 1st. The declaration came in the form of a blog post by Facebook on their developer portal on April 24th. It was hidden between a bunch of other deprecated APIs, which I’m sure broke a lot of other things for other people.

    Most of my traffic in the past has come from Facebook. Back before Facebook deprecated the API, my photography posts would be automatically cross-posted to Facebook. Friends and family could see my travel or other photographs. Some clicked through to the blog and left comments. Many clicked liked or left comments on the Facebook itself. When I started using IndieWeb plugins I could even pull these responses back to my blog. All that stopped when Facebook deprecated the API. Traffic to the blog has fallen off and I don’t make the effort to manually post a link to Facebook.

    But what happened when the posts stopped? Nothing.

    Same. I am not sure anyone notices that I don’t post to Facebook. Is that the algorithm at work or do people just not care?

    I’m tired of being Facebook’s fix. I don’t care for it any more.

    What took you so long? Facebook only has the power we cede to it by using it. I am no longer angry at Facebook. Facebook is Facebook in the same way my wife is my who she is. Expecting here to change to meet my expectation of who she should be in foolish. Better to accept her as she is and learn to love her as she is. Or leave. Same for Facebook. Leave. Delete the account. I told my friends who complain about Facebook to put up or shut up.

    While the company has morphed and plundered and established itself as the place to go to steal access user data, it should know that its main platform is tired and done for.

    I don’t think so. You are not the majority of Facebook users. When I log into Facebook, the complaints I see about Facebook are from tech geeks. The regular people have spoken. They like Facebook.

    I know a lot of people have done this in 2018, but I still have derived some utility from it, so I’m sure it’ll feel somewhat bad to do so.

    Define a lot? How did you do this analysis? I think this “Facebook is dead” talk is from a small group of tech nerds who are all in one echo chamber. Facebook is not in decline. Neither is Apple or Google. If you have actually analysis and data to back this up, please share. I have stopped using Facebook as much. My friends continue to use it as heavily as before. I see their timeline posts.

    I specifically made it a point to uninstall Facebook (it came preinstalled for some reason), while I did install Instagram.

    Facebook owns Instagram and has integrated all the data and analytics into its platform. So how are you signalling Facebook by using Instagram? Do they care about the usage pattern of the singular data point that is Nitin Khanna?
    I have a question. What is it that Facebook could do to make money while doing nothing of the things that offend you? Is what you want the same as what the majority of Facebook users want?

    Facebook had killed off an ugly experiment it has forced me to be a part of two years – the Facebook marketplace and Video tabs.

    And how were you forced into this experiment? You also admitted that you’ve never used them.
    I hope this does not come off as a defence of anything Facebook has done. I’m just trying to understand.
    When I have a party at my house I hope that my invited guest understand that they must follow the rules of my house. If they don’t like the rules, they are free to leave at any time.

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  4. @khurtwilliams ugh. That’s silly. I used twitter’s official settings. That ensures only full tweets (and for some stupid reason, quote tweets) got sent. Their settings page was broken, so I couldn’t turn off quote tweets. But replies never went to Facebook. That would be silly!!

  5. @nitinkhanna Knock on wood, after going back onto Facebook this summer, the algorithm has been pretty good to me. Don’t know if it’s my friends, my rejection of all ads, or Friendly (it turns the mobile site into an app). I’ve also found the joy of discovering plenty of cool events through friends marking interest.

  6. @khurtwilliams you know, I hadn’t ever understood how the WP fail2ban plugin is supposed to work. But now that I’ve played with the jails a little more, and created my own filters, I see how it can help. I’ll start using it and dump the overdone captcha…

  7. @Bruce @nitinkhanna Interesting! Should give friendly a shot.. I just installed pi-hole to block ads across my home network and ublock to cover up the gaps that pi-hole had. Works pretty good so far! Was looking at ways to clean out the in-app ads.

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