Facebook toyed with the idea of adding a “Sympathize” button to the social network, for when “like” doesn’t quite apply.
As reported by The Huffington Post, a developer came up with the “sympathize” button at a recent hackathon event. It would only appear if your friend labeled their Facebook post with a negative emotion like “sad” or “depressed,” the blog said.
Facebook has no plans to add the sympathize option to the site; like any tech firm, it experiments with features all the time. But the topic came up during a presentation from Facebook engineer Dan Muriello at Facebook’s Compassion Research Day. The event, which took place last week, shares “everything we’ve learned in the last year about what happens when you apply the science of how people relate to each other to social technology.” It was organized in conjunction with Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education Compassion and Technology Conference.
For years, Facebook users have requested a “dislike” button for posts on the social network, but the company has thus far declined to go negative. During a 2010 interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said the “dislike” button is “something that we would definitely think about,” but he did not commit to adding it to the site. Later, a “dislike” app scam made the rounds on Facebook; rather than adding the functionality, it stole your information.
For now, the only option is “like,” which is definitely not appropriate for all situations. Of course, one might argue that it’s not exactly a huge task to type a sympathetic comment like, “I’m sorry,” or “I’m here for you.” But this is the age of Facebook, so sometimes you only have time for a click.
What’s the difference between optimizing your product to maximize distribution and gaming the system? That’s up to whoever controls the system in question.
In the case of the new breed of viral content sites taking over the internet, the controller is Facebook. Sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy — and a growing number of imitators — have all but perfected the science of producing stories that Facebook users can’t resist sharing with their friends and “liking.” With 1.2 billion users, Facebook offers a platform big enough to build an entire business on: Upworthy, which said it had 87 million unique visitors in November, gets more than half its traffic from the social network, while Buzzfeed, with 133 million uniques, counts on it for about one-third of referrals.
It would therefore be potentially devastating to these sites — and to the entire category of what I’ll non-judgmentally label virality mills — if Facebook did anything to make it more difficult for them to disseminate their content through its users’ newsfeeds. But some people think that’s exactly what it’s trying to do.
Last week, Facebook said it was making new changes to the algorithm that governs what shows up in users’ streams. The changes are meant to ensure users see “high quality articles” instead of just “the latest meme.”
The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein was among those who saw the move as as response to the rising tide of virality mills. “As a genre, this stuff is flooding into Facebook so fast, and it’s so much more effective at getting shared than anything that came before it, that it seems almost certain that there’ll eventually be a correction in the algorithm to keep it from taking over news feeds entirely,” Klein wrote.
Peter Kafka of AllThingsD went a step farther, quoting sources who called the update “Facebook’s Panda.” Panda was the name of an algorithm update Google implemented in 2011 to improve the quality of search results. It was widely seen as a response to the tactics of so-called content farms like Demand Media, which were using armies of freelancers to produce cheap content in response to fluctuations in web search trends. Asked directly whether Facebook is trying to do something similar, only with Buzzfeed and Upworthy standing in for Demand and Associated Content, Newsfeed product manager Lars Backstrom told Kafka, “We don’t have any sort of specific enemies or targets.”
I’ll expand on Kafka’s history lesson. When Google implemented Panda, it, too, resisted attempts to characterize it as “a dagger aimed at the heart of companies like Demand,” as Mathew Ingram put it at the time. Google’s reticence allowed Demand CEO Richard Rosenblatt to claim his company wasn’t a target, and even to intimate that Google saw Demand’s output as the sort of high-quality content Panda was meant to promote.
Is that an overly dire parallel to suggest? After all, Backstrom tells Kafka the Newsfeed update will only have “a 10 to 20% impact.” That doesn’t sound like a lot — until you consider that Google said Panda would affect about 12% of search results.
Whatever Facebook’s true intentions, you can be certain that every publisher that relies on the platform for any substantial amount of its traffic will be carefully parsing every utterance coming out of Palo Alto for clues to what the new Newsfeed construes as “quality content.”
With that in mind, here’s something to think about: According to a post from August, Facebook’s engineers began this process by surveying thousands of users to solicit their views on what defines quality. That’s something of a departure for a company that typically bases its decisions on the firmer data of user behavior — what people actually do versus what they say they think.
Implicit in the decision to take a survey was the understanding that just because people will read something doesn’t mean they think it’s good. We may follow a hyperlink because it’s right there in front of us as the headline has been A/B tested to the point of irresistibility, just as we may continue to eat Pringles until the sleeve is empty, while in both cases wishing for something more nutritious to save us from our own compulsions. “Content that gets clicked on is high quality by definition,” says Lightspeed Ventures partner Jeremy Liew, but Facebook’s actions suggest it thinks otherwise.
“[T]he surveys are not necessarily the truth,” Backstrom says. “But it’s just as naive to treat every single click as having the same value.”
Ironically, perhaps, Buzzfeed, and by extension the entire virality mill genre, has its roots in a similar discrepancy. Its founder, Jonah Peretti, has often talked about the difference between the content people seek out through search versus the content they consume via social. People use search to find information they’d rather not talk about with friends — diet pills, celebrity nipple slips, etc. — and social to publicize their consumption of content that they think reflects well on them — eg. “11 Incredibly Powerful Letters From History.”
How big is the delta between the kinds of content we want to be seen as consuming and the content we actually like to consume? The answer to that question may determine who benefits from Facebook’s recent moves and who loses out.
In an open letter to Washington, eight major technology companies are calling for sweeping changes in the way the U.S. government collects information on citizens.
The letter was signed by AOL Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Google Inc., LinkedIn Corp., Microsoft Corp., Twitter Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. In documents leaked by former defense contractor Edward Snowden, most of these companies have been listed as being among the targets where the U.S. government is extracting digital information as part of a massive surveillance effort.
“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide,” the companies say in the letter to President Obama and members of Congress. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for change.”
Facebook is considering making a big change. Developers are experimenting with a “sympathize” button, so your friends can show their support without having to “like” something, according to a new report.
The Huffington Post reports developers liked the idea of the “sympathize” button when an engineer introduced it at a recent Facebook hackathon.
Many users were hoping Facebook would add a “dislike” button.
But the social media site has reportedly chosen to go with sympathy instead of negativity.
Developers say they idea would be to give users the option of choosing how they’re feeling from a drop down list of emotions.
If you select a negative emotion like “depressed,” then the “like” button would automatically be changed to “sympathize.”
But don’t start looking for the button just yet. While the idea is being well-received, there’s no word on when it will make its way to the site.
While Americans were busy “Liking” each other’s pet photos, Facebook was working behind the scenes, counting and ranking how many times users mentioned the year’s most prominent people, places and events.
Today, Facebook officially unveiled its 2013 Year in Review. Besides a personalized list of your 20 biggest moments, it also includes all of the pivotal moments and notable personalities that filled up people’s News Feeds. So, what was so important that Americans had to write a status update about it?
Yes, Americans are ready for some football In 2012, the country was abuzz with partisan fervor. The most-talked-about event on Facebook? The presidential election. The most-buzzworthy people? President Barack Obama and former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (One Direction, the absurdly coiffed British boy-band, came in third).
This year, Americans left politics behind and focused on what really matters: the NFL. Everyone was talking about the Super Bowl, officially Facebook’s “most-buzzed-about” event of 2013. And while Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning didn’t win a ring, he did win a spot as Facebook’s most-mentioned person of the year.
“Sporting events do get a lot of engagement on Facebook,” Robert D’Onofrio, data editor for Facebook, told NBC News. “During the first week of the NFL, 30 million people generated over 60 million interactions on Facebook.”
Miley Cyrus and Beyonce might be tops on search engines like Yahoo and Bing, but on Facebook, it turns out that jocks rule.
May is for lovers April showers bring May flowers and, apparently, plenty of romance. Facebook tracked which “major life events” people shared most in 2012 and what month they shared them in. The winners? “Adding a relationship” and “getting married,” both of which happened most often in May.
Americans still love Mickey Disneyland first opened in Anaheim, Calif., in 1955. Today, it’s just as popular as it ever was — at least on Facebook. It was officially the social network’s most-checked-in location, beating out Times Square in New York City.
In third place: Another Disney attraction, Epcot Center in Orlando.
Superheroes don’t always rule The top-grossing films for 2013: “Iron Man 3,” “Despicable Me 2″ and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” according to Box Office Mojo. The most-talked-about movie on Facebook? Horror flick “The Conjuring,” which got a stellar score on Rotten Tomatoes (87 percent) but was 16th overall at the box office.
Why couldn’t Tony Stark beat a bunch of ghosts on Facebook?
“We often see movies and TV shows with devoted fans bases, regardless of size, generating lots of Facebook engagement and this was clearly no exception,” said D’Onofrio.
People love to complain about the government Despite the lack of a presidential election, 2013 had no shortage of political drama, which reached critical mass during the 16-day partial government shutdown that crippled Washington in October.
Not surprisingly, the government shutdown was Facebook’s most-buzzed-about event in politics, and the second most-discussed event overall. Could it take the top spot in 2014? Possibly. This could all happen again when funding for the government runs out on Jan. 15.
Here is what else Facebook users were talking about in 2013:
1. Super Bowl 2. Government shutdown 3. Boston Marathon 4. Syria crisis 5. Harlem Shake 6. Pope Francis 7. George Zimmerman 8. Royal baby 9. Nelson Mandela 10. Presidential inauguration
Keith Wagstaff writes about technology for NBC News. He previously covered technology for TIME’s Techland and wrote about politics as a staff writer at TheWeek.com. You can follow him on Twitter at@kwagstaff and reach him by email at: Keith.Wagstaff@nbcuni.com
The world’s leading technology companies have united to demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws, urging an international ban on bulk collection of data to help preserve the public’s “trust in the internet”.
In their most concerted response yet to disclosures by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL have published an open letter to Barack Obama and Congress on Monday, throwing their weight behind radical reforms already proposed by Washington politicians.
“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” urges the letter signed by the eight US-based internet giants. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for change.”
Several of the companies claim the revelations have shaken public faith in the internet and blamed spy agencies for the resulting threat to their business interests. “People won’t use technology they don’t trust,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel. “Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help restore it.”
The chief executive of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, said: “Recent revelations about government surveillance activities have shaken the trust of our users, and it is time for the United States government to act to restore the confidence of citizens around the world.”
Silicon Valley was initially sceptical of some allegations about NSA practices made by Snowden but as more documentary evidence has emerged in the Guardian and other newspapers detailing the extent of western surveillance capabilities, its eight leading players – collectively valued at $1.4tn – have been stung into action amid fears of commercial damage.
“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens,” they say in the letter. “But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.”
Crucially, Silicon Valley and these key reformers in Congress now agree the NSA should no longer be allowed to indiscriminately gather vast quantities of data from individuals it does not have cause to suspect of terrorism in order to detect patterns or in case it is needed in future.
“Governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of internet communications,” says the companies’ new list of principles.
They also argue that requests for companies to hand over individual data should be limited by new rules that balance the “need for the data in limited circumstances, users’ reasonable privacy interests, and the impact on trust in the internet”.
Feinstein, who represents California, has been accused by critics of being a cheerleader for Washington’s intelligence committee but now faces opposition from her state’s largest industry.
The companies also repeat a previous demand that they should be allowed to disclose how often surveillance requests are made but this is the first time they have come together with such wide-ranging criticism of the underlying policy.
The industry’s lobbying power has been growing in Washington and could prove a tipping point in the congressional reform process, which has been delayed by the autumn budget deadlock but is likely to return as a central issue in the new year.
The Feinstein and Leahy/Sensenbrenner bills agree with technology companies that there should be greater transparency of court rulings regulating surveillance and more opportunity for privacy advocates to argue against intelligence agency requests.
The eight technology companies also hint at new fears, particularly that competing national responses to the Snowden revelations will not only damage their commercial interests but also lead to a balkanisation of the web as governments try to prevent internet companies from escaping overseas.
“The ability of data to flow or be accessed across borders is essential to a robust, 21st century, global economy,” the companies argue in the list of reform principles. “Governments should permit the transfer of data and should not inhibit access by companies or individuals to lawfully available information that is stored outside of the country. Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.”
And they argue foreign governments need to come together to agree new international standards regulating surveillance, hinting at legal disputes and damage to international trade otherwise.
“In order to avoid conflicting laws, there should be a robust, principled, and transparent framework to govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions, such as improved mutual legal assistance treaty – or “MLAT” – processes,” say the companies. “Where the laws of one jurisdiction conflict with the laws of another, it is incumbent upon governments to work together to resolve the conflict.”
Official responses to the Snowden revelations have been angriest in countries subject to US surveillance such as Germany and Brazil, but more muted in countries such as Britain and Australia, whose governments are close partners of the NSA.
Martha Lane Fox, who recently resigned as the British government’s digital champion, responded to the new letter by expressing concern at the lack of understanding of both the scale and complexity of the surveillance story within Britain’s government.
“We do have an issue in this country among the corporate world, the political establishment and the general population where we have a shortage of skills and understanding for the digital age,” she told the Guardian. “There is an absence of a clear, coherent debate around this subject in this country and it’s a very big issue that will only become more frequent the more technologically dependent we become.”
She pointed to comments made by the former Conservative home office minister Lord Blencathra and the Labour peer Lord Soley, who both expressed concern at the scope of surveillance by the security services.
“[The government] needs to listen to people, to examine whether their policies are fit for the digital age. It’s not that people aren’t used to their data being collected, but what it is being collected for, and there needs to be a distinction between the average person and a security threat.”
The eight internet companies behind the new letter also acknowledge that business also has a responsibility to protect privacy.
“For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure, deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorised surveillance on our networks, and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope,” they conclude.
“We urge the US to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”
Google, Twitter, Yahoo and last week Microsoft have all responded to public concerns over surveillance by increasing the security of their products, introducing “perfect forward secrecy” encryption to protect information travelling on their internal systems.
“The security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information,” said Google’s chief executive, Larry Page.
“This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It’s time for reform and we urge the US government to lead the way.”
Somehow I doubt their “prioritizing” will be any better. More of whoever pays the most gets their story displayed to the most people. The stuff I do care about is filtered out from my timeline because it doesn’t fit their business interests. But then again, I agree with the guy below me in that there isn’t that much important information posted to Facebook. Unless you like cats, baby photos, drama, people complaining all year round, those same people being thankful during the month of November, Myspace style quizzes resurfacing in statuses, bad decisions, questionable pictures and, ‘Murica.
Photo: Courtesy of Facebook.
It’s happened to you many times: A Facebook friend posts an interesting news story — say, about satanists wanting to build a monument on the steps of the Oklahoma statehouse — and you’re tempted to click “Like,” but you hesitate. “Like” means a very definitive thing in modern English. It’s hard to say — in public, to all of your college acquaintances and professional associates — that you “like” Leigh Ledare’s incest-y art, even if you do appreciate it, without looking a little creepy to people who might not know you that well.
Facebook recognizes this, and one of its engineers, Dan Muriello, recently revealed that the company has experimented with a “Sympathize” button for these nebulous circumstances where you want to express interest without suggesting outright approval or enthusiasm. According to the Huffington Post, some Facebook engineers dreamed up a “Sympathize” button at a hackathon held not long ago.
Though “out-of-the-box” ideas often emerge at these types of events, few of them every materialize on the social network. What’s important, however, is that the site’s engineers are aware of how restricting their current language can be. “Some of our best ideas come from hackathons,” a Facebook spokesperson told the Huffington Post, “and the many ideas that don’t get pursued often help us think differently about how we can improve our service.” Even the “Like” button itself emerged from one such hackathon. So, news hounds, have hope. (Huffington Post)
Facebook users have been bombarded with requests from friends to join Circle – The Local Network this week, an app that concentrates social networking down to those in your immediate proximity.
First it was Bitstrips, then it was giraffe profile pictures, and now it’s the mysterious ‘Circle’ confounding this nation of keen scrollers, with many people receiving invites to it from multiple friends in a very short space of time.
Billed as ‘the future of social networking’, its goal is to ‘let you view what is happening near you, now’.
Location-based apps have been growing in popularity recently, though unlike popular dating ones like Tinder and Grindr, on Circle you are more likely to find traffic information than a heaving torso.
‘Each month, more than a million people are joining Circle for real-time information and conversation about nearby crime, traffic, natural disasters – as well as places to go and things to do,’ Palo Alto-based creator Hawthorne Labs claims.
‘Lost dogs. Best fishing spots. Free kids events. Closedroads. Flash mobs. Amazing, scary exciting and crazy are happening everywhere. The Circle community is there to help you navigate the world.’
Many Facebook users aren’t impressed by the idea of having to take on yet another social network, with most tweets about it being of the ‘If I get one more Circle request I’m gonna…’ variety.
The next person to invite me to try Circle – The Local Network on Facebook is getting dropkicked and thrown off a cliff— Ben Courtney (@BenCourtney_) December 08, 2013
Paul Walker’s untimely death has spurred various different Internet hoaxes, with the most recent claiming to have “shocking” footage of the car crash. If anyone has seen this on Facebook, be aware that it’s misleading. The video must be shared before it can be viewed and doesn’t have actual footage of the crash.