How to Improve the Facebook Newsfeed

Towards a more humane social-capital slot machine

Evan Warfel

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2020 Note: I originally wrote this in 2018. Nowadays, I think that the biggest problem with social media is the emphasis on individuality and the corresponding lack of tools for communal accounts and expression. For instance, one can imagine multiparty posts that attribute authorship, or multi-party comments, or posts where the discussion is only open for a certain time each day.

Refresh the Facebook newsfeed too many times in a row and you’ll come into contact with the oleaginous feeling of capitalism. It’s the same feeling you can get when you see nothing you like on Netflix, when you walk into a supermarket with fluorescent lights, or when you inhale the toxic gas (aka the “smell”) in a new car.

This feeling is the product of being on the downstream end of what I call “denovation,” or frustrating incremental improvements that weren’t made with your well-being in mind. It’s the feeling that you are being used on some level while enjoying the process on another. And it is usually worse if the company is publicly traded. Look — if Netflix really cared about you, they wouldn’t have uploaded Marvel’s IronFace to their servers.¹

Everything you need to know about the quality of Marvel’s IronFace is encapsulated in the still above. More proof that the universe runs on Fractals and Holograms™.

As for the component of the oleaginous feeling specific to Facebook (FB), I suspect that this is related to three things: that browsing FB doesn’t require any skill, a constrained design process, and that browsing FB is almost exactly like gambling at a slot machine. (Except instead of gambling money for money, FB browsing requires you to gamble your attention for social meaning.)

The “lack of skill” part means that it is very difficult to get into Flow while using FB — there is no challenge and nothing to improve at other than expressing yourself.

While fixing this might require entirely rethinking the product, in the meantime, I thought it’d be a good design-thinking exercise to articulate some ideas about how the Facebook newsfeed might be improved. As long as we are all semi-slavishly wagering our attention with what we hope are good odds, we might as well have a better experience while doing so.

Caveats: While I am neither an official product designer nor product manager, I work as Data Scientist and I…

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Evan Warfel

Soon to be a UC Davis Psych Grad Student / Writer / Data Scientist / Humanist.