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December 15, 2011updated 19 Aug 2016 9:28am

Why Facebook’s ‘black box’ pisses people like Robert Scoble off

News Feed, Timeline offer greater control but some algorithms are a mystery

By Jason Stamper Blog

Robert Scoble

Robert Scoble says Facebook’s black box "pisses people like me off"

Facebook has rejigged the Profile page with Timeline – the ability to look back through the Facebook history of users – but there are still some things we don’t get to know about how it brings us our News Feed.

News Feed is the centre column of your home page – a constantly updating list of stories from people and Pages that you follow on Facebook.

The News Feed algorithm uses several factors, including how many friends are commenting on a certain piece of content, who posted the content, and what type of content it is (e.g. photo, video, or status update) to determine what appears in the Feed.
But while it is possible to adjust your News Feed preferences to some extent using News Feed controls, it’s still a bit of a black box as to how it picks certain stories over others as Top Stories.

So while it is possible to see most recent stories instead of top stories, for instance, or to hide and unhide certain users or types of content from your News Feed, the inner workings of its algorithm remain a dark art.

This was something noted futurologist and Rackspace technology evangelist Robert Scoble complained of on a recent trip to London. "Facebook is struggling to give ‘power users’ more control, because it is something that must be [intuitive] for the average user," he told CBR and other journalists at a press luncheon. "But it pisses people like me off – I want to know what’s inside the black box."

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Asked by CBR whether this could be a reason for a rival social network site like Color, Path or Google+ to start to claw back market share from Facebook, Scoble said, "I still don’t think we’ve seen the perfect social network."

Could Facebook even one day become the next Bebo – once #winning, if you like, but now a shadow of its former self if it’s not already extinct? Or would Scoble argue that Facebook’s incredible dominance means that it has become almost unstoppable, in part because it has become about as pervasive as the telephone? "If you study history, as I do, you would have to say nothing is guaranteed to be immune from competition and innovation elsewhere. So no, I’d never say Facebook is invincible," Scoble said.

Related: Scoble sets out his top predictions for 2012

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